UK govt’s Brexit plan faces Supreme Court test
London: Britain’s Supreme Court today began a landmark legal hearing against a High Court court ruling that the government requires a parliamentary nod before it starts official Brexit negotiations, in a highly-charged case that could upset Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan of leaving the 28-nation European Union.
The landmark hearing will determine whether British Prime Minister Theresa May must get Parliament to ratify her decision to invoke Article 50, which will trigger the official negotiations for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
The Supreme Court in central London is made up of 11 justices who are hearing the government appeal against last month’s High Court ruling. The hearing is expected to last four days, with the verdict due early next year.
The UK had voted to leave the EU in a referendum on June 23, by a margin of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent.
May has said she intends to officially notify the rest of the 27-member economic bloc of the UK’s intention to leave - beginning two years of talks over the terms of separation - by the end of March 2017.
However, that timeline could be affected based on the Supreme Court ruling this week. The government’s legal team had argued in the High Court that the public referendum in favour of Brexit in June and ministerial powers mean MPs do not need to vote, but campaigners had argued this was unconstitutional.
“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,” a government spokesperson said.
The challenge had been brought by a group of businesses led by investment manager Gina Miller, whose lawyers argued that the government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty unilaterally despite a public referendum in favour of leaving the European Union (EU).
“The result today is about all of us. It’s not about me or my team. It’s about our United Kingdom and all our futures,” Miller said after the judgement.
“We have a Parliament that is sovereign. We have a functioning democracy. Are we now saying that we can go back to 19th-century, 18th-century politics where governments can overrule Parliaments and take away people’s rights, which will happen when we leave the EU. For me that is a very dangerous place to go,” she had said earlier.
Ministers argued they can act under ancient powers of Royal Prerogative, the preserve of monarchies.
A judicial review of the issue in the High Court was heard by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas, who announced their ruling today. “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,” he declared. The losing side in the case was always expected to launch an appeal, which was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court.