Boris Johnson has used his first Daily Telegraph column of 2017 to take aim at European judges who he claims have forced a “pointless and expensive burden on millions of people”.
The Foreign Secretary said it was “insane” that a 2014 ruling on motor insurance by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could force Britons to buy insurance for a “vast menagerie of vehicles” including quad bikes and mobility scooters.
The Government is now consulting on how to square the decision with UK law.
Compulsory insurance was introduced on the roads to make sure victims of serious accidents received compensation for lost wages, specialist treatment and their injuries, and to avoid individuals going bankrupt when faced by large claims for damages.
The case concerned Slovenian Damijan Vnuk, who was knocked off a ladder by a tractor trailer being driven on private farmland.
A Slovenian court said insurance laws only covered the tractor when it was being used for transport, but European judges disagreed.
Lawyers believe compulsory insurance for vehicles on private property is an “inevitable conclusion” of the ECJ’s ruling that the law should cover “the normal function” of any vehicle that does not run on rails.
Mr Johnson said: “It seems to mean anything from dodgems to Segways to scooters to your granny’s motorised bath-chair.
“This kiddie quad bike insurance law is a perfect example of both the over-regulation that has sapped the competitiveness of the EU and burdened it with low growth and high unemployment, and the judicial activism of the ECJ.
“What has it got to do with the so‑called single market, whether I tootle around my garden on an undersized quad bike?”
Such “undemocratic law‑making” made him glad Britain had voted for Brexit, he added.
An analysis by Weightmans law firm said it was “inevitable” the ruling would extend to private property.
“The ruling could lead to a stream of cases dealing with how you determine ‘the normal function’ of a vehicle and indeed how far the definition of ‘vehicle’ extends,” it said.
“Certainly a number of previously uninsured vehicles will now potentially be in the frame including, for example, fork lift trucks, Segways, invalid carriages, sit-on lawnmowers and many others.”
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The Motorsport Industry Association, in a letter to The Times, said that “implementing this ruling would, at a stroke, wipe out legal motor sport activity”.
The Department for Transport’s impact assessment document on how to implement the judges’ ruling – either by changing UK law to incorporate it as-is, or, the preferred option, by changing the law to encompass the way the EU plans to accommodate the ruling EU-wide – runs to more than 40 pages.
Its accompanying consultation document, released on 20 December, is 50 pages. The consultation ends on 31 March this year.
In it, Andrew Jones MP said the Government had “serious misgivings” about how the Vnuk judgement had broadened the scope of the EU’s directive on motor insurance, the over-arching set of rules that allow hauliers and holidaymakers to travel more easily across the continent.
He said: “As the European Commission itself has recognised, the judgement has generated some potentially costly consequences.
“Unless, and until, the directive is actually amended, we are faced with a position where we must comply with European law as determined in the Vnuk judgement for as long as we are a member of the EU.”
Mr Johnson added: “It is a principle of EU law that it has ‘direct effect’. As soon as the Court of Justice has spoken – wham – the entire 500 million people of the EU are subject to the force field of their will.
“And unless the member state governments take steps to bring their own law into line, they can be sued themselves.”