The European Court of justice (ECJ), European Union’s top court has ruled that the British government may reverse its decision to leave the bloc without consulting other member states, giving more ammo for non-Brexiters to challenge the current deal under which Britain will opt out of the 27-member block.
In an emergency judgment delivered just a day before the British parliament’s scheduled voting on a Brexit deal that Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU by had hammered out, the ECJ said Britain can still withdraw its motion to exit the larger union.
“The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU,” the court ruled.
The ruling has raised hopes of opponents of Brexit within the UK that a new referendum could be held to prevent Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU on 29 March 2019.
For May, however, a defeat of the draft deal in parliament would mean setting up further tense talks with the EU when she goes to Brussels on Thursday for a summit of national leaders.
Alyn Smith, a Scottish nationalist member of the European Parliament and one of those Brexit opponents who raised the case seeking clarification of Article 50 of the EU treaty to the European Union’s Supreme Court in Luxembourg said:
“Today’s ruling sends a clear message to UK MPs ahead of tomorrow’s vote that there is a way out of this mess. A light at the end of the tunnel for the economy, for jobs and for the UK’s standing on the world stage. Now it’s up to the UK.
“If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms.”
Brexiters like May’s environment minister Michael Gove dismissed the TCJ ruling and said the government won’t reverse its decision to leave.
The ECJ said in its statement that Britain should suffer no penalties if it halts the Article 50 process which May triggered last year after a June 2016 referendum: “Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the United Kingdom remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged.”
However, any decision to return to EU would cost Britain the special privileges it enjoyed so far, including a separate currency outside the EU.
At the same time, a defeat of the Brexit deal would push the nation into another and more difficult referendum.
If May wins tomorrow’s vote in parliament, the withdrawal seems likely to proceed as agreed with Brussels last month.