No Brexit sans parliament nod, rules UK Supreme Court

25 Jan 2017


Prime Minister Theresa May Brexit Secretary David Davis warned 'remoaner' MPs and peers not to exploit the Supreme Court ruling to 'thwart' Brexit in parliament, after Britain's top court ruled  by a margin of 8-3 that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot use executive powers to begin the formal process of leaving the European Union.

Davis issued the tough message as he defiantly vowed to push ahead with the timetable for cutting ties with Brussels despite the government being dealt the humiliating legal blow.

Minutes after the painful defeat for the government, a triumphant Gina Miller - the businesswoman who spearheaded the challenge - stood on the steps of the court to declare that she had scored a victory for ''parliamentary sovereignty''.

But former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said the intervention of the court raised ''Constitutional'' issues - although the judges made clear they were not taking a view on Brexit.

Ministers will take some comfort from the fact that three of the judges sided with them, and the court flatly dismissed demands from Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish government to get a veto on the deal.

In a statement to the Commons later, Davis said he would bring forward a short Bill, as early as Wednesday, designed to provide minimal opportunities for pro-EU MPs and peers to table amendments. He said Britain was 'past the point of no return' on Brexit.

''The purpose of this Bill is simply to give the government the power to invoke Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union,'' Davis said.

''That's what the British people voted for and it's what they would expect.

''Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this legislation. But I trust no-one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people or frustrate or delay the process of exiting the European Union.''

He added, ''There can be no turning back.''

'Remain' to fight'
However, "Remain" supporting MPs have already indicated they will fight a rearguard action against the government plans.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is demanding a 'meaningful' vote on the final deal that would in effect mean MPs could tear up whatever May negotiates and order her to start again.

The SNP has also threatened to table 50 amendments in an effort to bog the Bill down.

Delivering the ruling today, senior judge Lord Neuberger said, ''Today, by a majority of 8-3, the Supreme Court rules that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament.''

He said 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,'' he added. ''Therefore, the government cannot trigger Article 50 without Parliament authorising that course.''

Attorney General Jeremy Wright thanked the Supreme Court for its work.

Speaking outside court, the government's top lawyer said, ''Of course the Government is disappointed. (But) the government will comply with the law and will do all that is necessary to implement it.''

Ahead of the statement to MPs by Brexit Secretary Davis, a No10 spokeswoman said, ''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.''

Speaking outside the court, a jubilant Miller said, ''Today eight of the 11 Supreme Court judges upheld the judgement handed down by the High Court in November in a case that went to the very heart of our constitution and how we are governed. ''

Cameron rapped
The legislation passed by David Cameron in 2015 failed to make clear ''what should happen in response to the referendum result'', the judgement said

The Supreme Court judgement rapped Cameron for producing unclear legislation on the effect of the EU referendum.

The judges said the government would not have faced legal challenges had the legislation made clear ''what should happen in response to the referendum result''.

It said previous referendums - such as the 2011 vote on changing the electoral system and the 1998 devolution votes - had stipulated that an Act of Parliament would be passed if they were approved.

But the failure of the European Union Referendum Act only made provision that the referendum should be held.

The judgement suggested this was because nobody in ministers and parliament ever predicted Leave would win the referendum.

The lack of clarity led to ministers confusing the public during the referendum campaign as some described the outcome of the referendum as advisory while others said it was decisive, the SC ruling said.

''Only parliament can grant rights to the British people and only Parliament can take them away. No prime pinister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged. Parliament alone is sovereign.

''This ruling today means that MPs we have elected will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the Government select the best course in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations – negotiations that will frame our place in the world and all our destinies to come.''

But leading Brexiteer Duncan Smith said the ruling underlined the problem of judges intruding on the role of parliament.

He told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show, 'You've got to understand that, of course, there's the European issue but there's also the issue about who is supreme – Parliament or a self-appointed court.

''This is the issue here right now, so I was intrigued that it was a split judgment.

''I'm disappointed they've tried to tell Parliament how to run its business ... they've stepped into new territory where they've actually told Parliament not just that they should do something but actually what they should do and I think that leads further down the road to real constitutional issues about who is supreme in this role.''

Ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the ''establishment'' was trying to 'frustrate' the Brexit process, and warned that people are ''getting angry about it''.

The scope of the PM's powers under the royal prerogative were called into question by Miller's challenge - which caused explosive political rows about the role of judges intervening on the will of the people.

The government appealed and a landmark four day case was heard by all 11 of Britain's most senior judges for four days in December.

The overwhelming majority of MPs have indicated they will not try to block the Article 50 legislation outright - after the Commons passed a symbolic vote for Brexit by a landslide last month.

But up to 80 Labour MPs could join the Lib Dems in rebelling against Article 50, and it is expected there will also be attempts to water down May's negotiating position.

The case at the Supreme Court came weeks after Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, and two other leading judges at the High Court, ruled on 3 November that May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50.

The subsequent Supreme Court hearing attracted media attention from around the globe. It was the most televised UK case ever.

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