Brexit Shock for Theresa May and Angry Brexiteers
This morning the High Court released its verdict on whether the parliament or the government has the constitutional power to trigger Article 50. They have ruled that the Parliament will have the power to make the decision, but Downing Street says it will appeal this on 7 December in a Supreme Court hearing. While the pound surged up after the Court’s decision, it slowly went down after the government confirmed its appeal.
High court’s decision
The argument: Will Theresa May have the power to trigger Brexit or will this authority be given to the parliament and MPs to notify the EU of the UK’s desire to leave the bloc? The parliament can also decide to block the process, in which case things get more complicated and uncertainty multiplies.
Last month, a three-day hearing strengthened the demands for parliament to have a more active role in the negotiations for Brexit.
On Thursday, at 10am, the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, read out a summary of the judgment in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Because of the high importance, legality and sensitivity of the matter, drafts haven’t been sent in advance to lawyers.
The judgement concluded that it didn’t accept the Government’s argument, which was against the constitutional principles of the sovereignty of the Parliament. The Court decided that the Government “does not have the power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”
The Green party’s co-leader, Caroline Lucas, said: “We welcome this ruling which shows that ministers do not have the power to trigger Article 50 without consulting parliament. Parliament must have the opportunity to debate and vote on triggering Article 50, rather than a group of ministers at the top table having total control over this country’s future place in the world.”
But Nigel Farage expressed his worries: “I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand.” He also told Radio 5 Live that, if the UK doesn’t leave the EU by 2019, he will return to campaigning. God forbid. What he doesn’t understand is that Brexit isn’t about fervent sentiment and celebrations, but about making calm decisions that will affect people’s lives. It isn’t about divisiveness, but cooperation of all democratic parties for the best possible solution.
Pro-Leave campaigners are very unhappy since they worry that the parliament might overturn the referendum result. However, some MPs like Labour’s Angela Smith have said that they will examine but not block Brexit.
Maybe Boris Johnson is a prophet when he said Britain will make a “Titanic success of Brexit” since the Brexit ship might slowly start sinking after today’s Court decision. Bursting their Brexit bubble and putting holes in their insulated logic might be the best news for a while.
UK citizens against the government
Today’s legal battle against the government was initiated by Gina Miller. The claim by the two lead claimants, British nationals Gina Miller and Deir dos Santos, supported by the crowdfunded People’s Challenge and Fair Deal for Expats, wanted to prove that the Government doesn’t have the right to bypass the Parliament by using the powers of the Royal Prerogative. The case brings into focus the UK’s unwritten constitution and the need to adopt a formal written constitution.
In addition to Gina Miller’s challenge of whether the Royal Prerogative can undo Acts of Parliament, People’s Challenge focusses on UK citizen’s individual rights and their EU membership and whether Article 50 can be invoked without Parliamentary scrutiny.
They argue that Brexit will change their individual, personal rights and that the timing of Brexit and its conditions should be decided by a democratically elected Parliament. As they put it, the Government’s use of the prerogative to trigger Article 50 constitutes “an act of constitutional vandalism.” The claimants believe that such a decision should only be made by the Parliament—as the Sovereign body in the UK—which is the one that has granted the EU rights and privileges in the first place.
What is at stake is Parliamentary Sovereignty. The claimants feel that a self-appointed Government shouldn’t have the right to change the status and rights of UK citizens. They argue that:
The current Government wants to use ancient (archaic) Royal Prerogative to trigger the process of the UK leaving the EU in the interest of the Government's sectional and party political interest.
By using the Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon this Government will be sweeping away rights at a stroke of a pen without the proper scrutiny of and a final decision being made by our Sovereign Parliament.
As the leader of the claim, Gina Miller is delighted by the result today.
Before the hearing, this morning, she said: “We will be making the argument that the correct constitutional process of Parliamentary scrutiny and approval - as well as consultation with the devolved administration in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly - needs to be followed. Otherwise the notice to withdraw from the European Union would be unlawful and subject to legal challenge.”
What’s happening now?
Now Theresa May is saying that her intention is still to trigger Article 50 before the end of March. We shall see in December when the government appeals to the Supreme Court. But, today is important because democratic procedures have been respected and all the political parties will have the chance to work together to find the best solution that will work for all Britain, its economy and its people.