[WATCH] UK parliament must have vote to trigger Article 50, Supreme Court rules

Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process, the UK's Supreme Court has ruled

24 January 2017, 10:47am
Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing
Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing
The UK’s Supreme Court has ruled by eight votes to three that government cannot trigger Article 50 without act of parliament.

The justices declared the government’s executive powers, inherited through the royal prerogative, were not sufficient to uproot citizens’ rights gained through parliamentary legislation such as the 1972 European Communities Act.

“Section 2 of the 1972 [European Communities] Act provides that, whenever EU institutions make new laws, those new laws become part of UK law. The 1972 act therefore makes EU law an independent source of UK law, until parliament decides otherwise. Therefore, when the UK withdraws from the EU treaties, a source of UK law will be cut off. Further, certain rights enjoyed by UK citizens will be changed. Therefore, the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliament authorising that course,” Supreme Court President David Neuberger said.

“Any change in the law to give effect to the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by an act of parliament. To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries,” he added.

Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty refers to the process of an EU member state to exit the bloc, and states that “any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

The judgement means Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing.

However, Neuberger said that the Sewell Convention, which says that normally Scotland has to give legislative consent to any legislation affecting at Westminster affecting devolved matters, is a convention (ie, not law) and not within the jurisdiction of the court.

“On the devolution issues, the court unanimously rules that UK ministers are not legally compelled to consult the devolved legislatures before triggering article 50. The devolution statutes were enacted on the assumption that the UK would be a member of the EU, but they do not require it. Relations with the EU are a matter for the UK government. The Sewel convention plays an important role in the operation of the UK constitution but the policing of its scope and operation is not a matter for the courts.”

Therefore, there is no need for the government to wait for consent from the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was "disappointed" but would "comply" and do "all that is necessary" to implement the court's judgement.

He said enacting the decision would now be a political matter, not a legal matter and David Davis, the Brexit secretary would be making a statement to the Commons later on Tuesday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50."

He added, however, that the party would seek to amend the government’s Bill.

“Labour will seek to amend the article 50 bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe. Labour will seek to build in the principles of full, tariff-free access to the single market and maintenance of workers’ rights and social and environmental protections. Labour is demanding a plan from the Government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given Parliamentary approval.”

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, welcomed the judgement, confirming his party would vote against article 50 unless people are given another vote on the final deal.

"This court case was never about legal arguments, it was about giving the people a voice, a say, in what happens next," he said, going on to criticise the government as being "keen to laud the democratic process when it suits them, but will not give the people a voice over the final deal."

Gina Miller, the investment fund manager who was one of the lead claimants in the challenge, welcomed the ruling, saying “no Prime Minister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged. Parliament alone is sovereign.”

Outside the court, she said MPs would now have the chance to help the government select the best course in Brexit talks. She also spoke of how this “divisive issue of a generation” had led to her and her legal team facing “extraordinary and unwarranted criticism”.