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Brexit requires parliamentary approval, Britain’s high court rules

In a major ruling that could undo the June 23 Brexit vote, the high court on Thursday ruled that the Theresa May government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the EU without a vote in parliament authorizing it to do so.

world Updated: Nov 03, 2016 18:28 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Brexit setback,high court ruling on brexit,Lisbon Treaty
No easy walkout: Britain's Prime minister Theresa May and others perceived the cases as a ploy to frustrate the referendum outcome to leave the EU. After Thursday’s ruling, her government is likely to approach the Supreme Court. (AFP File)

The fractious process of Britain leaving the European Union was thrown into further turmoil on Thursday after the high court ruled that the Theresa May government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a vote in parliament authorising it to do so.

The verdict brought cheer to many who voted in the June 23 referendum to remain in the EU, but also relief to some who voted to leave but later realised the scale of implications of their vote, mostly on the economic front.

The pound, which has been under pressure since the Brexit vote, jumped after the ruling.

Read | In leaked tape, Britain’s May warned of Brexit damage

International Trade secretary Liam Fox told the House of Commons the government was disappointed.

The government is to appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Many, including political parties, appeared shocked by the verdict and its multiple implications.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty sets out the process for any member-state to leave the EU. It has never been used so far, but Prime Minister May has announced it would be set in motion by the end of March 2017, prospects of which was put in some doubt after the high court ruling.

Read | Still here? EU reality dims British demand on full membership

It is known that a majority of the MPs and lords are in favour of Britain remaining in the EU, but it was not clear whether parliament would now need to pass legislation authorising the government to trigger Article 50, or vote on a motion on the issue.

It was the May government’s case that Article 50 could be triggered by an executive action without referring it to parliament. This was opposed by entrepreneurs and others who brought two legal cases, insisting the government could not ignore parliament.

May and others perceived the cases as a ploy to frustrate the referendum outcome to leave the EU. The court ruling opens the possibility that parliament may not completely reject the Brexit vote, but opt for a ‘soft Brexit’ that retains some access to the European single market.

The high court ruled that parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit: “In the judgment of the Court the (government’s) argument is contrary…to the fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament.”

The challengers maintained that parliamentary approval and legislation was required for such a fundamental change that would deprive millions of UK citizens of their legal rights. If ministers alone triggered Brexit, they would be undermining the sovereignty of parliament, it was argued.

Nigel Farage, interim leader of UKIP and who was partly responsible for the referendum being held, said: “We are heading for a half Brexit. I’m becoming increasingly worried. I see MPs from all parties saying, oh well, actually we should stay part of the single market, we should continue with our daily financial contributions. I think we could be at the beginning, with this ruling, of a process where there is deliberate, wilful attempt by our political class to betray 17.4 million voters.”

He added: “If come spring of 2019 we haven’t left the EU, then I would have to take up full-time campaigning again.”

Fiona de Londras, professor of Global Legal Studies at Birmingham Law School and told HT: “(The verdict) will give parliament the capacity to delay the commencement of the formal withdrawal process so that complex questions of domestic legal and political importance—like the status of Northern Ireland and Scotland, or the border with the Republic of Ireland—might be closer to resolution before the two-year clock (under Article 50) for withdrawal starts to tick.”

“Strictly speaking, parliament could veto triggering Article 50 and withdrawal from the EU as well, and the SNP and Northern Irish MPs will hold considerable power in the process,” said the expert of constitutional and European law.

“All in all, today’s decision makes what was already a complex process even more complicated, and firmly reinstates parliament as an important actor in the Brexit process.”

First Published: Nov 03, 2016 16:01 IST

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