October 20, 2020

‘Brexit’ will require vote in Parliament, U.K. high court rules

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lkw132-112_2016_160454By Michael Holden, Reuters From The Globe and Mail

LONDON — Reuters

Published Thursday, Nov. 03, 2016 6:28AM EDT

’s High Court ruled on Thursday that the British government requires parliamentary approval to trigger the process of exiting the , upsetting Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

The government said it would appeal against the decision and a spokeswoman for May said the prime minister would press ahead with the planned timetable of launching talks on the terms of Brexit by the end of March.

The pound rose on the court’s ruling, hitting a three-week high against the dollar. Many investors took the view that lawmakers would temper the government’s policies and make an economically disruptive “hard Brexit” less likely.

“The most fundamental rule of the UK’s constitution is that parliament is sovereign and can make and unmake any law it chooses,” said Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, England’s most senior judge.

Thomas and two other senior judges did not spell out what action the government needed to take. They also did not say whether it would need to pass a new law to trigger the divorce proceedings, which could face opposition and amendments from both houses of parliament, particularly the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber.

In theory, parliament could block Brexit altogether. But few people expect that outcome, given that the British people voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU in a referendum in June.

However, the ruling makes the already daunting task of taking Britain out of a club it joined 43 years ago even more complex. It also puts at risk May’s March deadline triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal step needed to start the process of exiting the bloc.

“The government is disappointed by the court’s judgment,” trade minister told parliament. “The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by acts of parliament. The government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.”

Making clear the government planned to stick to its timetable, the spokeswoman for May said: “Our plan remains to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, we believe the legal timetable should allow for that.”

“HARD BREXIT” NOW LESS LIKELY?

The court ruled that the government could not trigger Article 50 without approval from parliament.

“The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government,” Thomas said. “We decide that the government does not have power … to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”

The judges granted the government permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest judicial body, which has set aside Dec. 5-8 to deal with the matter.

Investment manager Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the legal challenge, said the case was about “process, not politics” and rejected accusations of trying to usurp the will of the people.

“One of the big arguments (in the referendum) was parliamentary sovereignty,” she told reporters. “So you can’t on the day you get back sovereignty decide you’re going to sidestep or throw it away.”

Lawmakers largely voted to remain in the EU in the June referendum. Many investors believe greater parliamentary involvement in the process would therefore reduce the influence of ministers in May’s government who are strongly pro-Brexit.

This could reduce the likelihood of a “hard Brexit”, a scenario in which Britain prioritizes tight controls on immigration over remaining in the European single market.

Nigel Farage, head of the anti-EU party , said on Twitter that he feared the ruling could turn into an attempt to scupper Brexit altogether.

“I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand,” he said. “I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50. They have no idea (of the) level of public anger they will provoke.”

SO, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The stage is now set for a period of political uncertainty while ministers digest the ruling and how to respond to it.

HOW DID THE GOVERNMENT REACT?

“The government is disappointed by the court’s judgment,” trade minister Liam Fox said on Thursday.

“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by acts of parliament. The government is determined to respect the result of the referendum,” he told parliament.

WHAT ARE THE GOVERNMENT’S OPTIONS?

Legal commentators say ministers now have two basic options: a simple vote in parliament on whether to trigger Article 50 or a new bill granting the right to leave the EU, which will have to be debated by lawmakers.

WHAT WOULD A NEW BILL ENTAIL?

David Pannick, the lawyer for the lead claimant, said parliament could approve such a bill, reject it or pass it with amendments on details such as the date of notification.

The best case for the government would be to avoid legislation and involve parliament through a so-called substantive motion — a proposal put forward for debate and a vote. This would be a quicker process and could be done early next year.

Legislation would take longer as it involves various stages of debate and approval. It can also be held up by so-called “ping pong”, whereby a bill goes back and forth between the lower and upper house of parliament, being amended and voted on.

HOW LONG WILL ALL THIS TAKE?

While it is possible legislation could be introduced and passed between the time of a final judgment late this year, and May’s end-of-March 2017 deadline, it is likely to be tight and may result in the triggering being pushed back.

The 1972 European Communities bill, which set the terms of Britain’s entry into the European club, involved a total of about 40 days of debate during its passage through parliament, according to the Institute for Government.

COULD PARLIAMENT BLOCK BREXIT?

Lawmakers in the lower house, the House of Commons, are thought to be unlikely to try to stop Brexit, and a Reuters survey suggested many who voted to “remain” would now vote to trigger Article 50 in a parliamentary vote.

However, a cross-party group of lawmakers, who support a “soft Brexit”, whereby Britain stays in or remains close to the EU single market, have demanded a greater say for parliament in negotiations and say they might try to pass amendments that guarantee this.

The government may also face trouble in the House of Lords, where the ruling Conservatives do not have a majority. If the Lords were to block the bill the government could decide to overrule it using the Parliament Act, although it cannot re-table the bill until the next parliamentary session.

The new parliamentary session usually starts in May or June, so that would delay the Brexit process significantly.

IMAGE: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during a press statement with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos at 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez are on a three day state visit to Britain. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, pool)

For more on this story go to: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/british-government-loses-brexit-court-case/article32656237/

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