Landmark verdict: UK govt loses Brexit appeal, court orders parliament vote first

Published: January 25, 2017
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British PM Theresa May. PHOTO: AFP

British PM Theresa May. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May must give parliament a vote before she can formally start Britain’s exit from the European Union, the UK Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, giving lawmakers who oppose her Brexit plans a shot at amending them.

A ‘straightforward’ bill will now be rushed to parliament within days, the government said after the country’s highest judicial body decided May could not use executive powers known as “royal prerogative” to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and begin two years of divorce talks.

However, the judges did remove one major potential obstacle for the government, saying May did not need the approval of Britain’s devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before triggering Brexit.

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“We will within days introduce legislation to give the government the legal power to trigger Article 50,” Brexit minister David Davis told parliament.

“This will be the most straightforward bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment.”

May has said she intends to invoke Article 50 before the end of March but the ruling means the Brexit process is now open to scrutiny from lawmakers, the majority of whom had wanted to stay in the EU.

However, the main opposition Labour Party has said it would not block Brexit although it would try to amend the legislation.

“Labour will seek to build in the principles of full, tariff-free access to the single market and maintenance of workers’ rights and social and environmental protections,” party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Media reports have suggested that up to 80 Labour lawmakers (MPs) in the 650-member House of Commons, the lower chamber, would ignore Corbyn and vote against triggering Article 50, while the small Liberal Democrat Party said it would oppose Brexit unless there was a second referendum on the final deal.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party, which has 54 MPs, vowed to put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments.

May’s spokesman said the court’s decision did nothing to change the path of Brexit or her timetable.

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Davis said: “The point of no return was passed on June 23 last year. This judgement does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the European Union.”

Sterling initially rose on the news that the government had lost its appeal, but it then fell over half a cent to hit day’s lows against the dollar and euro after the ruling that the devolved assemblies did not need to give their assent.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2017.

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