LONDON — Today’s Supreme Court ruling was not the one the government had hoped for.
They believed that the prime minister had sufficient royal prerogative powers in order to trigger Britain’s exit from the EU, without prior authorisation by Parliament.
However, the government did achieve two significant victories today.
The biggest risk for the government was that the court would rule that the UK’s devolved administration must be consulted, under the Sewel Convention, effectively giving the Scottish government a veto over Brexit.
Today the Supreme Court ruled that won’t be necessary. “On the devolution issues, the court unanimously concludes that… the Sewel Convention does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation.” This will be a big relief to government lawyers.
Had the court ruled the other way, the Scottish government and other devolved administrations could have been handed an effective veto over Brexit. That they didn’t will be a massive relief for the government and Brexit campaigners.
The second victory for the government today was that the ruling leaves the door open for the government to publish a simple one-clause yes/no bill authorising the triggering of Article 50.
According to today’s ruling a “brief statute” will be sufficient.
“What form such legislation should take is entirely a matter for Parliament. But, in the light of a point made in oral argument, it is right to add that the fact that Parliament may decide to content itself with a very brief statute is nothing to the point,” it states.
“There is no equivalence between the constitutional importance of a statute, or any other document, and its length or complexity.”
This allows the government to publish a simple one-clause bill. If they choose to go down this path then it will limit the ability of Labour and other opposition parties to attach any conditions to their support for the bill through amendments.
This would be minister’s first preference. However, government lawyers are believed to have advised ministers that any such single line bill would be open to further challenge. The government is therefore likely to publish at least a two-clause bill which would be open to amendment.
Straight after the ruling, Labour announced that they would seek to amend the bill to enshrining protection on single market access, workers’ rights and environmental protections.
It remains to be seen how much of an opportunity, if any, to amend the bill they will be given by the government.
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