UK High Court confirms EU Court rulings on Western Sahara

The UK Court has concluded that the UK government has acted unlawfully in granting preferential tariff treatment to products from Western Sahara through a deal with Morocco, and in granting fisheries quota's for fishing in Western Sahara under a fish deal with Morocco.

Published 28 March 2019

On 25 March 2019, the UK High Court of Justice has handed down its judgment in the case brought forward by Western Sahara Campaign UK against two governmental agencies for acting unlawfully in relation to the territory of Western Sahara through EU-Morocco bilateral agreements. Today, the High Court ruled that "the claimant has been completely successful in its litigation in this jurisdiction". 

The case has been going on for four years, after WSC-UK in 2015 had filed against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service (HMRC) as it gave preferential treatment to products imported from Morocco which had in fact come from the Western Sahara. WSCUK argued that products originating in Western Sahara are being imported into the United Kingdom and treated as Moroccan for the purposes of the ‘EU – Morocco Association Agreement’. Goods and products produced in West Sahara should not to be treated as originating in Morocco for the purposes of preferential tariffs or any other benefits conferred upon Moroccan products by the Association Agreement. In addition, they argued that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) could not lawfully grant fishing quotas to British fishing vessels in waters off Western Sahara. 

In early 2016, the case was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which in 2018 concluded that Morocco has no sovereignty over or any international mandate to administer Western Sahara. As such, the European Union, when entering into agreements with Morocco, must respect the right of Saharawi people to self-determination. Any agreement or partnership between the EU and Morocco cannot be applied to the territory of, or indeed impact on any other rights of, the Saharawi people of Western Sahara. 

The ruling by the CJEU has now been confirmed by the High Court in the UK. "As a result of these two judgments of the CJEU the parties have agreed declarations which I am content to make. These state that neither the Association Agreement nor the Fisheries Partnership Agreement encompass either the territory of Western Sahara or the waters adjacent to it. Further there will be a declaration that HMRC erred in law in not exercising its power to investigate and query the stated place of origin of products originating in Western Sahara and imported into the UK under the country code ‘MA’ in EUR.1 certificates", paragraph 12 of the judgment reads.

Read the full Judgment here.

The UK Government is to refund WSC-UK' expenses related to the judicial review.

John Gurr, Coordinator of WSCUK, said that “The campaign obviously welcomes this judgement that confirms the status of the Western Sahara as a separate territory to Morocco under international law. For 40 years the international community has failed to uphold the rights under international law of the Saharawi people, so we are pleased to have won this case. We now expect our government to enforce the judgement so that no goods can be illegally imported into the UK from the Western Sahara under the pretence that they are from Morocco. Only once the Saharawi people has expressed its inalienable right to self-determination, will the UK be able to trade legally in goods produced in the Western Sahara. The UK government should now use this judgement as a basis to strongly support the UN supervised process of self-determination so the process of decolonisation in Africa is complete."


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