Brexit Update – Supreme Court confirms that Parliament must vote on Article 50January 24, 2017
The Supreme Court has issued the most significant legal ruling about the British constitution for decades. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and the House of Lords first vote in favour of issuing the Article 50 notice.
In her latest blog, Roz Goldstein looks at what this means in practice, and what will happen next.
What was the effect of the Supreme Court ruling?
The government has lost its appeal against the decision of the High Court last November. The Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s ruling that parliament must vote in favour of serving the Article 50 notice, before the government can proceed.
The ruling is not about whether or not Brexit is a good thing. It is about the constitutional powers of government and Parliament, and as such it is one of the most significant UK legal judgements in living memory.
Famously, the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. Instead, our constitution is based on hundreds of years of precedent. The Supreme Court has therefore drawn on accumulated legal precedents going right back centuries, including the principle that “the King by his proclamation or other ways cannot change any part of the common law or statute law”.
The Government’s case was that it could, following the referendum, start the process for the UK’s departure from the EU, under “royal prerogative”. In other words, the Government did not need the consent of Parliament. But in this landmark decision, the Supreme Court, by a majority of 8 to 3, has ruled against the Government.
What about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Despite arguments made to the Supreme Court during the hearing, the court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, are not entitled to a say in the Government’s decision.
What will happen next?
The Government must now get a bill through both houses of Parliament before triggering Article 50, and therefore has something of a mountain to climb in order to meet its deadline of end of March.
It is expected that the majority of MPs in the House of Commons will vote in favour of the bill, and Jeremy Corbyn has already said that his MPs should not seek to block Article 50. The Government may meet more resistance in the House of Lords, however, where the Government does not have a majority. But peers will be mindful that, as they themselves are not elected, any indication that they are attempting to block the effect of last year’s referendum will be viewed as undemocratic. Hence the Government’s optimism that the Supreme Court’s decision will not derail or delay the Brexit process.
The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, has said that the Government will comply with the judgement “and do all that is necessary to implement it”. As for the exact procedure that the Government has in mind, we will hear more from David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, later today.