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Brexit break. UK Supreme Court says Parliament must vote on exit from EU

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process.

Brexit will have to wait.

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Parliament must vote on whether the United Kingdom can leave the EU.

In short, the judgement means UK PM Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until parliament members give the go ahead.

Expectations are that UK MPs will approve Brexit talks in time for the government’s 31 March deadline.

The Supreme Court also ruled the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies did not need a say in the Brexit decision.

BBC reports

During the Supreme Court hearing, campaigners argued that denying the UK Parliament a vote was undemocratic and a breach of long-standing constitutional principles.

They said that triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – getting formal exit negotiations with the EU under way – would mean overturning existing UK law, so MPs and peers should decide.

But the government argued that, under the Royal Prerogative (powers handed to the government by the Crown), it could make this move without the need to consult Parliament.

And it said that MPs had voted overwhelmingly to put the issue in the hands of the British people when they backed the calling of last June’s referendum on Brexit.

Reading out the judgement, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said: “By a majority of eight to three, the Supreme Court today rules that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an act of Parliament authorising it to do so.”

He added: “Withdrawal effects a fundamental change by cutting off the source of EU law, as well as changing legal rights.

“The UK’s constitutional arrangements require such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament.”

The court also rejected, unanimously, arguments that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly should get to vote on Article 50 before it is triggered.

Lord Neuberger said: “Relations with the EU are a matter for the UK government.”

Here are the Supreme Court’s key points inits ruling…

  • The 1972 Act that took the UK into the then EEC creates a process by which EU law becomes a source of UK law
  • So long as that act remains in force, it means that EU law is an “independent and overriding source” of the UK’s legal system
  • Unless Parliament decides otherwise, this remains the case
  • Withdrawal from the EU makes a fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements because it will cut off the source of EU law
  • Such a fundamental change will be the inevitable effect of a notice being served
  • The UK constitution requires such changes can only be made by Parliament
  • The fact that withdrawal from the EU would remove some existing domestic rights of UK residents also renders it impermissible for the government to withdraw from the EU Treaties without prior parliamentary authority

Government reaction…

Outlining plans to bring in a “straightforward” parliamentary bill on Article 50, Mr Davis told MPs he was “determined” Brexit would go ahead as voted for in last June’s EU membership referendum.

He added: “It’s not about whether the UK should leave the European Union. That decision has already been made by people in the United Kingdom.”

“There can be no turning back,” he said. “The point of no return was passed on 23 June last year.”

Outside the Supreme Court, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was “disappointed” but would “comply” and do “all that is necessary” to implement the court’s judgement.

A Downing Street spokesman 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.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Leave campaigner, tweeted: “Supreme Court has spoken. Now Parliament must deliver will of the people – we will trigger A50 by end of March. Forward we go!”

Tory MPs and opposition party reaction…

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.”

But he added that his party would “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, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall warned MPs and peers not to hamper the passage of the legislation.

“The will of the people will be heard, and woe betide those politicians or parties that attempt to block, delay, or in any other way subvert that will,” he said.

The Scottish National Party said it would put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to the government’s parliamentary bill for triggering Article 50.

Among them, it wants Theresa May to set out her negotiating aims in an official document known as a white paper and to consult the Scottish government and other devolved administrations through the UK-wide joint ministerial committee.

Several Tory MPs, including former ministers Alistair Burt, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, also want a white paper but former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith predicted any bill would be “very tight” and there would be little scope for amendments.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said his MPs and peers would vote against Article 50 unless there was guarantee of the public having a vote on the final deal reached between the UK and EU.

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Alex Christoforou
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