The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom by a majority of 8 to 3 has today confirmed that triggering the exit procedure from the European Union requires an Act of Parliament.
As such the Supreme Court disagreed with the current UK Government which had argued that Government ministers could rely on their prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union without prior authorisation by Parliament. Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies had argued that they too should be consulted. The judges did not agree with that view.
This is a big blow for the current Government. The judges held that triggering Article 50 will bring fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements by cutting off the source of EU law and by removing existing domestic rights of UK residents. As to the Brexit referendum, the Supreme Court confirms its political significance, however, notes that the statute authorising the Referendum was mute as to the specific legal consequences resulting from it. Defining the legal consequences will remain in the power of Parliament which will have to enact legislation fleshing out the changes in the law required to implement the referendum. Whether this will upset Theresa May’s timetable of invoking Article 50 by the end of March will have to be seen, the Government certainly does not think so and is expected to introduce a bill into Parliament shortly.
In the end the Supreme Court’s judgment is unlikely to change all that much given in particular that the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies are unable to exercise any veto. In addition, over the last days members of Parliament from other parties have indicated their support for the triggering of Article 50. For those hoping that Article 50 will not be triggered the question is whether the pro-EU members of Parliament are able to form a credible opposition in the time available and will vote as a matter of their conscience.
The uncertainty for companies will remain. The reaction amongst clients and companies exposed to the UK has been varied so far with some already moving jobs and operations while others are waiting or are committing to the UK despite Theresa May’s indication on future steps all supporting a hard Brexit.
Full text of the judgment, transcripts from the hearings and parties’ submissions: here.