Parliament must back Brexit, Supreme Court rules

24 Jan 17

The Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s ruling that the government must gain parliamentary approval before it triggers article 50, the formal mechanism that will begin Britain’s exit from the European Union. 

Government lawyers had argued that the referendum result, which was won by the Leave side by a majority of 51.9% to 48.1% last June, imbued it with the legitimate authority to trigger article 50 without consulting parliament.

Late last year the High Court ruled that government must gain the backing of Parliament before article 50 can be invoked. Following hearings last month, the Supreme Court this morning dismissed the government’s appeal by eight votes to three. This means that British MPs will need to ratify Brexit through a vote in parliament before official negotiations can begin with the rest of the EU.

However, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected arguments that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly needed to be consulted as part of the process.

Gina Miller, the investment fund manager who brought the case against the government, said that Brexit had become the most divisive issue for a generation. But, she said, “no prime minister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged – Parliament alone is sovereign”.

She hoped MPs in Parliament would now be able to bring their expertise to help the government “select the best course in its Brexit negotiations.”

After the ruling was announced, a spokesman for Number 10 said: “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.

“We respect the Supreme Court’s decision, and will set out our next steps to Parliament shortly.”

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn had already promised not to vote down the proposal when prime minister Theresa May puts the motion before parliament.

Responding to today’s ruling, he said: “Labour respects the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking article 50. “However, 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.”

However, it is thought that dozens of Labour MPs may rebel against their leader’s wishes when the vote comes to the Commons. 

In his response to the verdict, Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, implied that MPs from his party would not vote to support the triggering of Article 50, without putting a final vote on the deal to the British public, possibly in the form of another referendum.  

“The Liberal Democrats are clear, we demand a vote of the people on the final deal and without that we will not vote for article 50,” he said.  

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