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Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit

Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit

The High Court has ruled that Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU. This means that the government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on its own.

One of the most important constitutional court cases in generations, it has created a nightmare scenario for the government. The decision has huge implications, not just on the timing but also on the terms of Brexit.The Prime Minister had originally planned to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of March, when she wanted to start Brexit talks. This ruling has completely disrupted her timetable.

The three judges looking at the case found there was no constitutional convention of the royal prerogative – powers used by ministers – being used in legislation relating to the EU.

They added that triggering Article 50 would fundamentally change UK people’s rights – and that the government cannot change or do away with rights under UK law unless Parliament gives it authority to do so.

Calling the case “a pure question of law”, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who sat with Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Sales, delivered the unanimous judgement. He said: “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.”

He added: “By making and unmaking treaties the crown [ie the government] creates legal effects on the plane of international law, but in doing so it does not and cannot change domestic law. It cannot without the intervention of parliament confer rights on individuals or deprive individuals of rights..…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.”

Outside the Court the triumphant leading claimant, Gina Miller, appealed forlornly for the government not to appeal the decision. The government has said it will appeal and has permission to go straight to the supreme court, which has set aside time on 7 and 8 December. All 11 of the justices in position will have a chance to decide on a matter that goes to the heart of the UK’s unwritten constitution.

BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg described the decision “a serious problem for Theresa May, who wanted to be able to start the legal machinations of Article 50 without the hassle and political risk of going through Parliament. MPs have already shown they are willing to be difficult over Brexit, or flex every muscle of scrutiny (depending which way you look at it). And with a tiny majority in Parliament and most MPs having argued Remain, this judgement spells real trouble for ministers.”

She added: “An emboldened Parliament is the last thing Mrs May needs when faced with the enormous complexities of taking us out of the EU. But sovereignty is what the country voted for in the referendum.”

Nigel Farage said: “We are heading for a half Brexit,” adding “I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand… I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”

Could an early general election be on the cards?

To see the full text of R (Miller) -V- Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union go to:
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/r-miller-v-secretary-of-state-for-exiting-the-european-union/ and follow the links.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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