Theresa May suffered a major personal defeat today when the High Court ruled that she couldn’t trigger Article 50 without getting parliamentary approval.
Parliament must now vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.
In practical terms, this means two things:
First, May cannot trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and beginning the formal process of leaving the EU when she wants.
Secondly, parliament and the House of Lords have now the upper-hand on when the UK will actually start the process of leaving the EU, and will be able to negotiate what Brexit actually means.
May’s strategy was based on her decision when to trigger Article 50. May wanted to negotiate directly with the EU the terms of Brexit without parliament being involved in the process.
But the High Court concluded that the PM does not have the power to withdraw rights from the public by executive decision – something the High Court said would happen by invoking Article 50 and starting the “irreversible” process of Brexit
The ruling said:
“In the judgement of the Court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by Parliament in the 1972 Act and to the fundamental constitutional 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”.
For Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, it is now clear that May must accept the High Court’s decision. He urged the government “to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay”, adding that “there must be transparency and accountability to parliament on the terms of Brexit”.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has also been quick to react and has condemned the ruling, as he feared it is a “betrayal” of the 51.9% of voters who backed leaving the EU in June’s referendum.
Farage said to the BBC that:
“We are heading for a half Brexit. 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.”
But it is worth noting that Brexiteers originally wanted to get “parliamentary sovereignty” back. Therefore, Farage should welcome the decision of the High Court as it will allow MPs to decide what Brexit really mean.
A Government spokesman said a few minutes after the ruling, that the government would appeal the decision but, if the government loses its appeal, it will be a nightmare scenario for the government.
The decision of the High Court will have huge implications, not just on the timing of Brexit but on the terms of it, itself. It gives the initiative to those on the Remain side in the House of Commons who could argue Article 50 can only be triggered when parliament is ready. But they could also seize the opportunity of pushing the government to commit themselves to stay in the single market and attach even more conditions, before voting for an act of parliament that would allow Article 50 to be triggered.
But it will also help to clarify the process and will open the debate on what Brexit really mean. A debate that neither May or the Brexiteers wanted to have.
May has been humiliated by the decision of the High Court. If her government loses its appeal, it will be parliament that will decide what Brexit means, not her.