May can’t trigger Brexit unless MPs approve, judges rule

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CAMPAIGNERS have won their High Court battle over Theresa May’s decision to use the royal prerogative in her Brexit strategy.

In one of the most important constitutional cases in generations, three senior judges ruled the Prime Minister does not have power to use the prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the UK’s exit from the European Union - without the prior authority of Parliament.

Gina Miller speaks to the media at the High Court in London

Gina Miller speaks to the media at the High Court in London

What happens next in Brexit process?

The ruling against the Government was made by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, sitting with two other senior judges in London.

Within minutes of the ruling by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, International Development Secretary Liam Fox told the House of Commons that the Government will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The pound rose sharply following the decision. The ruling saw sterling shoot past 1.24 US dollars, up nearly 1% on the day.

Judges have ruled the Prime Minister does not have power to start the UK's exit from the EU unless MPs approve

Judges have ruled the Prime Minister does not have power to start the UK's exit from the EU unless MPs approve

Unless overturned on appeal at the Supreme Court - or at a potential further appeal to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg - the ruling threatens to plunge the Government’s plans for Brexit into disarray as the process will have to be subject to full parliamentary control.

Dr Fox told the Commons that the Government was “disappointed” at the High Court ruling, but remained “determined to respect the result of the referendum”.

“There will be numerous opportunities for the House to examine and discuss what the Government is negotiating,” said the International Trade Secretary - a leading Brexiteer.

“When we are clear about the position we will adopt then Article 50 will be triggered but given the nature of the judgment this morning we will now have to await the Government’s appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This ruling underlines the need for the Government to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay.

“Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to parliament on the terms of Brexit. Labour will be pressing the case for a Brexit that works for Britain, putting jobs, living standards and the economy first.”

The ruling was welcomed by opponents of a “hard Brexit”.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government must now lay out its negotiating position in Parliament, while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the finding as “significant indeed”. Green co-leader Caroline Lucas hailed it as “brilliant news”, adding: “That’s what taking back control should be about - better democracy.”

But Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he feared that “a betrayal may now be near at hand”, warning he had “a distinct feeling” that the political classes “do not accept the June 23 referendum result”.

“I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50,” said Mr Farage. “If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”

Government lawyers had argued that prerogative powers were a legitimate way to give effect “to the will of the people” who voted by a clear majority to leave the European Union in the June referendum.

But Lord Thomas declared: “The Government does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”

The Lord Chief Justice - sitting with the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and Lord Justice Sales - emphasised to a packed court that he was deciding “a pure question of law”.

He added: “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.”

Prime Minister Theresa May announced at the Conservative Party conference that she intends giving an Article 50 notification by the end of March 2017.

Her opponents were “concerned citizens” drawn from all walks of life, with the lead challenge brought by investment fund manager and philanthropist Gina Miller.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice Ms Miller was greeted by rounds of applause. Ms Miller said the result was “about our United Kingdom and all out futures. It’s not about how anyone voted. Every one of us voted for the best country and the best future.”

Meanwhile, the author of Article 50 has said the UK could choose to remain in the EU even after exit negotiations begin.

John Kerr said the UK could still legally choose to reject a Brexit after the legislation that begins formal negotiations is invoked.

The Scottish cross-bench peer, who wrote Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, also renewed calls for parliament or the public have another say on the referendum.

Lord Kerr said: “It is not irrevocable - you can change your mind while the process is going on.

“During that period, if a country were to decide actually we don’t want to leave after all, everybody would be very cross about it being a waste of time, they might try to extract a political price, but legally they couldn’t insist that you leave.”