Top UK judges rule: Government can't pull the Article 50 trigger alone

Parliament must be consulted on EU exit process

Supreme Court photo via Shutterstock

Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger formal talks for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March have been thrown into uncertainty.

Judges sitting in the United Kingdom’s highest court have ruled her government cannot trigger Article 50, the process initiating the UK’s formal negotiations to leave the UK, without the consent of Parliament.

Supreme Court judges this morning ruled eight to three that the Government could only trigger Article 50 with the approval of MPs.

A wide majority rejected ministers’ assertions they could trigger Article 50 on the basis of prerogative power.

Justices, however, ruled that Parliament need not consult the regional assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Delivering the verdict on Tuesday morning, Judge David Neuberger said judges rejected the government’s claim that its power to trigger Article 50 stemmed from the 1972 European Communities Act that took the UK into the earlier European Economic Community.

Neuberger said the justices' decision did not engage with the subject of whether the UK should leave EU or stay but, rather, the constitutional process.

“The issued in these proceedings have nothing to do whether the UK should exit the EU,” he said while presenting the verdict. “The main issue is whether government can trigger Article 50 without prior authority of Parliament.”

He appeared to criticize the Act of Parliament that set out the June 2016 EU referendum for failing to lay out what should happen following a Leave vote.

“A referendum of great political significant act of Parliament did not say what should happen as result,” Neuberger said.

Summing up, Neuberger said: “When the UK withdraws from the EU treaties, a source of UK law will be cut off. Further, certain rights enjoyed by UK citizens will be changed. Therefore, the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliament authorising that course.

“Any change in the law to give effect to the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by an act of parliament. To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries.”

The government’s ability to win a Parliamentary vote will depend greatly on unity within the two main parties.

The Conservative government has a working majority of 16 MPs, but the ranks contain sections of pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics.

Reports state 50 Labour MPs are willing to defy leader Jeremy Corbyn’s desire they follow the line and vote for a triggering of Article 50.

The Scottish National Party, with 54 MPs, is opposed to Brexit and Article 50, as are the Liberal Democrats – which has nine MPs – unless there is another referendum on the government’s final deal with Brussels following completion of the Article 50 process.

A statement from UK Brexit minister David Davis is expected later today. ®

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