The High Court has ruled that Teresa May’s government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Brussels Treaty, by which a nation can leave the European Union, without Parliament’s approval. The Lord Chief Justice declared, “The government does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.” A spokesman for HM Government said, “The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. And the government is determined to respect the result of the referendum. We will appeal this judgement.” Thus, the constitutional disaster of Brexit moves, although in which direction one cannot say.
In practical terms, this means that Prime Minister May’s desire to start the talks with Brussels on Britain’s departure in March are now on hold. The Supreme Court (the highest court in Britain these days) will most certainly hear the appeal, and how long before a finally final ruling comes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can only rule one of two ways. It can overturn the ruling, in which case, the government can go ahead. Alternatively, it can uphold the ruling, which throws everything into the House of Commons.
Eleanor Garnier, a BBC correspondent, put the situation this way, “This decision has huge implications, not just on the timing of Brexit but on the terms of Brexit. That’s because it’s given the initiative to those on the Remain side in the House of Commons who, it’s now likely, will argue Article 50 can only be triggered when Parliament is ready and that could mean when they’re happy with the terms of any future deal. Of course, it will be immensely difficult to satisfy and get agreement from all those MPs who voted to remain. Could an early general election be on the cards after all?”
Presuming the Supreme Court upholds the ruling of the High Court, the British negotiating position will most assuredly be undermined. Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn stated, “This ruling underlines the need for the government to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay. Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to parliament on the terms of Brexit.” This is tantamount to telling Brussels what the negotiating position is before sitting down at the table. Because same European leaders believe Brexit should be as painful for Britain as possible to prevent others following suit, giving away the position beforehand guarantees that the EU can virtually dictate terms.
The ruling, however, does offer some hope of keeping Scotland in the UK. The nation voted against leaving the EU, but it being pulled out by votes from England and Wales (Northern Ireland is in a similar position but has vastly different political considerations). If the SNP is given enough in Westminster, if the terms of Brexit give Scotland’s concerns enough consideration, it makes a second independence referendum much harder to justify.
The Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU party south of the border, could see a boost in their fortunes as well. Party leader Tim Farron explained, “Ultimately, the British people voted for a departure but not for a destination, which is why what really matters is allowing them to vote again on the final deal, giving them the chance to say no to an irresponsible hard Brexit that risks our economy and our jobs.” Campaigning on that message is a vote winner.
Sitting on the other side is UKIP and Nigel Farage, the once and future party leader. He said, “I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand… I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”
The referendum doesn’t seem to have settled anything.