In the past few months campaigners have argued that denying the UK Parliament the vote in regards to triggering Article 50, is undemocratic and a breach of UK constitutional principles. Consequently the Supreme Court made an official ruling declaring the necessity of Parliament to vote on whether the UK leaves the EU after all.
However, the government appealed, arguing that under Royal Prerogative, this decision could be made without consultation of Parliament as MP’s had already voted overwhelmingly in the first place to put the issue in the hands of the British people with a referendum on Brexit.
Following a fast-tracked appeal to the supreme court, it was announced this morning that the government had lost, resulting in ministers required to pass emergency legislation in order to authorise Article 50.
The decision has set clear the limits on the extent of the government’s power. The ruling stressed the rights set out by the 1972 European Communities Act which originally took the UK into the ‘European Community’, such rights that cannot be removed by the government’s executive powers.
The Supreme Court decision summary was delivered this morning by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury explaining the significant constitutional implications:
“By a majority of eight to 3 the supreme court rules that thee government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament authorising it to do so. Put briefly, the reasons given in a judgement written by all eight Justices in the majority are as follows:
Section two of the 1972 act provides that whenever EU institutions make new laws those new laws become part of UK law. The 1972 act therefore makes EU law an independent source of UK law until Parliament decides otherwise. Therefore, when the UK withdraws from the EU treaties a source of UK law will be cut off. Further, certain rights by UK citizens will be changed, therefore the government cannot trigger Article 50 without Parliament authorising that course.
We reject the government’s argument, that section 2 caters for the possibility of the government withdrawing from the EU treaties. There is a vital difference between changes in UK law, resulting in changes in EU law and those are authorised by section 2 and changes in UK law resulting from withdrawal from the EU treaties. Withdrawal affects the fundamental change by cutting off the source of the EU law as well as changing legal rights. The UK constitutional arrangements requires such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament – and the 1972 act does not do that, indeed it has the opposite effect.
The Referendum is of great political significance, but the act of Parliament which established it did not say what should happen as a result. So any change in the law to give effect of 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.”
Of course this is a bitter blow to Theresa May and the government who announced their proposed plans for Brexit last week with the hope of activating Article 50 by the end of March. Outside the court, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was disappointed, however, would of course comply and do what was necessary to implement the court’s ruling.
A Downing Street spokesman said the government remained optimistic with its previously set-out timeline, “The British people voted to leave the EU, and the government will deliver on their verdict – triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March. Today’s ruling does nothing to change that.”
Foreign Secretary and firm leave supporter tweeted:
Supreme Court has spoken. Now Parliament must deliver will of the people – we will trigger A50 by end of March. Forward we go!
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 24, 2017
Investment manager Gina Miller, one of the campaigners who brought the case against the government gave her reaction outside the court this morning saying, “Only Parliament can grant rights to the British people and only Parliament can take them away.” She continued, “this ruling today, means that MP’s we have elected will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the government select the best course in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations – negotations that will frame our place in the world and all our destiny’s in the time to come.”
She added, “There is no doubt that Brexit was the most divisive issue of a generation, but this case was about the legal process, not politics.”
Theresa May’s government now has a tight deadline to pass a bill through parliament in order to meet the Article 50 timeline recently set-out of the end of March. In the government’s favour there isn’t expected to be a significant presence in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords to actively block the process considering the decision came from a public vote.
The SNP, Lib Dems and some Labour rebels are likely to vote against the bill, however, generally even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will have no desire to prevent the result of the EU Referendum being honoured. However, did say, “Labour will seek to amend the article 50 bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.”
Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron confirmed his party on the whole will vote against Article 50 unless the public were given another vote based on the final deal.
Whilst Scotland’s first minister Nicole Sturgeon has said that the ruling proved the promises made to the Scottish government on devolution were ‘not worth the paper they were written on.
Brexit Minister David Davis is set to announce his verdict and plans on the ruling this afternoon to Parliament, which should therefore provide more details and suggest a revised timeline for the whole procedure.