International Law

No Brexit without Parliament OK, UK's High Court rules

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Britain’s High Court of Justice unanimously ruled Thursday that Parliament must first approve the issuing of Article 50, the formal declaration to separate from the European Union.

The court ruling said that Prime Minister Theresa May did not have the constitutional power to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which would formally begin the negotiations of Britain’s exit from the EU and give it two years to do so. The government argued that May had the power to issue Article 50 under her royal prerogative, but the court ruled that Parliament must approve the move given its effect on domestic law.

“In our judgment,” the court ruled, “the clear and necessary implication from these provisions taken separately and cumulatively is that Parliament intended EU rights to have effect in domestic law, and that this effect should not be capable of being undone or overridden by action taken by the crown in exercise of its prerogative powers.”

The government immediately announced its intentions to appeal. The case has been fast tracked and will be heard in the U.K. Supreme Court on Dec. 7 and 8.

Robert Bourns, the president of the Law Society, the independent professional organization for solicitors, said in a statement the society welcomed the constitutional clarity the case brought. “The question as to whether the decision to issue Article 50 is one for the government, using royal prerogative, or for Parliament through statute is central to this court case,” he said. “Most commentators assumed that this case—whatever the outcome in the High Court—would be appealed to the Supreme Court, so today’s ruling is a step along the road to the final decision.”

In a nationwide referendum in June, British voters decided 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent to leave the EU. Thursday’s ruling was the result of a case filed by a group called the People’s Challenge, who argued that Parliament should approve any actions that trigger Article 50.

In its first paragraph of the ruling’s summary, the court emphasized that it was looking at the legal, and not the political, question of the process for leaving the EU. “The court is not concerned with and does not express any view about the merits of leaving the European Union: That is a political issue.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Uncertainty about Brexit gives UK lawyers a boost”

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