Court Decision Puts Brexit in Hands of Parliament

    Feb 08, 2017

    Before beginning the formal process of withdrawing from the European Union, the UK government will need approval from Parliament, the UK’s highest court has ruled.

    In a controversial decision, the UK’s top judges said only Parliament has the legal authority to revoke the European Communities Act, the legislation that ushered the UK into the EU in 1973.

    “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,” the published summary of the judgment states.

    The government has claimed that it was within its executive powers to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the two-year separation process, without putting it to a vote in the House of Commons. But, by a vote of 8-3, the judges rejected that claim.

    However, the court said the government does not have to get approval from the regional legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. If the UK were required to seek such approval, it would have faced a large legal setback that would have sunk its plans to begin the withdrawal process by late March, according to Politico.

    The decision does not change the UK’s Brexit plans, and the government still plans to forge ahead with its plans to remove Britain from the EU, Politico said.

    In fact, Prime Minister Theresa May said her Brexit roadmap will not be affected by the court’s decision. According to Politico, May’s government has been working on legislation to secure parliamentary approval as soon as possible. Parliament is expected to support May, Politico reported, and opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn has stated that he will back the government as well.

    The government is expected to present a bill before the House of Commons soon, asking for authorization to trigger Article 50. Approval is expected, even though the majority of MPs supported remaining in the EU at the time of the referendum last summer.

    In November 2016, a lower court ruled that only Parliament had the authority to trigger Article 50 and dissolve the rights that had been given to British citizens as part of the EU.

    Lawyers for the private citizen group that brought the case because they supported remaining in the EU argued that the government would be overstepping its authority if it began formally withdrawing from the EU without Parliament’s approval. According to the group’s argument, Parliament had given British citizens certain rights by passing the European Communities Act of 1972, and only Parliament could remove those rights. The court agreed, but May’s government appealed.

    Judges in the High Court and the Supreme Court said they were only deciding a fundamental legal question and not making a larger statement on the political merits of EU membership.


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