- Government loses Supreme Court appeal and must put triggering of Article 50 to a parliamentary vote.
- Supreme Court rules against appeal by eight votes to three.
- Government is not obliged to consult with the UK’s devolved assemblies before triggering Article 50.
- Brexit Secretary David Davis tells House of Commons a bill will be introduced “within days.”
- You can read the Supreme Court’s full judgment here.
- Business Insider UK’s full coverage of the ruling is available here.
LONDON — The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday morning that the government must allow Parliament to vote on the triggering of Article 50.
The court’s head, Lord Neuberger confirmed that the Supreme Court’s judges voted 8-3 to reject the government’s appeal, and ruled that it must put the triggering of the article to a vote in Parliament before any formal action can be taken.
In summary, the court said:
“The Supreme Court by a majority of 8 to 3 dismisses the Secretary of State’s appeal (Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption and Lord Hodge in the majority with Lord Reed, Lord Carnwath and Lord Hughes dissenting).
“In a joint judgment of the majority, the Supreme Court holds that an Act of Parliament is required to authorise ministers to give Notice of the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Each of the dissenting justices gives a separate judgment.”
The judgment runs to 97-pages, but the most crucial text appears in paragraph 121, on page 38. It reads:
“Where, as in this case, implementation of a referendum result requires a change in the law of the land, and statute has not provided for that change, the change Page 39 in the law must be made in the only way in which the UK constitution permits, namely through Parliamentary legislation.”
The ruling finally brings to an end a legal battle that has raged for many months since the Brexit vote.
Gina Miller, a London-based investment manager, first launched a legal case arguing that it was unlawful for the prime minister to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without first securing the approval of Parliament in August.
Miller, represented by Lord Pannick QC, argued that triggering Article 50 without first consulting MPs would mean rights enjoyed by Brits as EU citizens put into law by Parliament being removed without Parliament’s permission.
In November, the UK’s High Court ruled in Miller’s favour and said that parliament must be given a vote on Article 50. That ruling was challenged by the government and taken to the Supreme Court, but has now been upheld by a majority vote of the court’s 11 judges.
The verdict was widely expected but means that the process of triggering Article 50 now becomes a parliamentary matter, adding a further level of scrutiny to the already complex process of Brexit.
An Article 50 bill will now be put before parliament “within days,” according to Brexit Secretary David Davis. Davis told the House of Commons that the bill will be in the “simplest possible terms.”
The ruling will not alter current plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March this year, he confirmed.
The devolution issue
While it struck down the government’s appeal the Supreme Court did, however, rule that the government does not need to consult the UK’s devolved assemblies in Scotland and Northern Ireland on triggering Article 50.
“On the devolution issues, the court unanimously concludes that neither section 1 nor section 75 of the NIA is of assistance in this case, and that the Sewel Convention does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation,” a summary of the court’s judgment says.
“Under each of the devolution settlements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the devolved legislatures have responsibilities to comply with EU law, and there is a convention (‘the Sewel Convention’) that the UK Parliament will not normally exercise its right to legislate with regard to devolved matters without the agreement of the devolved legislature,” it added.
The Supreme Court also ruled that once Article 50 is triggered, it cannot be reversed. Lawyers previously believed the request was reversible.
Although the government must put the triggering of Article 50 to parliament, the Supreme Court did not make any prescription on what any bill should look like. Paragraph 122 of the court’s ruling reads:
“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. There is no equivalence between the constitutional importance of a statute, or any other document, and its length or complexity.”
Attorney General Jeremy Wright said that the government was “disappointed” by the ruling, but that it will do everything it can to “comply with it,” and undertake “all that is necessary” to ensure the judgment is implemented.
A statement from Number 10 added a little later:
“The British people voted to leave the EU, and the Government will deliver on their verdict — triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March. Today’s ruling does nothing to change that.
“It’s important to remember that Parliament backed the referendum by a margin of six to one and has already indicated its support for getting on with the process of exit to the timetable we have set out.
“We respect the Supreme Court’s decision, and will set out our next steps to Parliament shortly.”
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn reacted to the judgment by saying that his party will not seek to frustrates the will of the British people, but did say that “Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven.”
The Scottish National Party also confirmed that it will table amendments to any Article 50 bill brought before parliament. These amendments will be “serious and substantive” the SNP said.
The case has been hugely polarising. Many supporters of leaving the EU have consistently argued that Miller and others are trying to undermine the will of the British people by striking down Brexit. This has led to Miller receiving near constant threats, and after the initial High Court ruling, led to a spate of newspaper headlines calling the High Court’s judges “Enemies of the People.”
Miller responded to the abuse she has received outside the court after the ruling. “I sincerely hope that going forward, people who stand in positions of power and profile are much quicker in condemning those who cross the lines of common decency and mutual respect,” she said.
Those who brought the case have consistently argued that it is not about preventing Brexit, but rather ensuring parliamentary sovereignty is respected.
While this case comes to an end on Tuesday, a new Brexit legal battle will commence on Friday, when the Irish Court will begin to deliberate whether Article 50 can be revoked once triggered. The case was launched by barrister Jo Maugham, who told Business Insider that if the Article 50 process can be reversed then it would give the public the chance to decline a Brexit deal. Maugham also believes there is evidence to suggest that Article 50 has already been triggered.
The pound dropped on the announcement of the Supreme Court’s ruling — likely because the government will not need to consult devolved assemblies.
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