Unionist MPs will now play key role in implementing Brexit

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It is expected that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal to yesterday’s High Court judgement on Article 50 before Christmas.

The unanimous nature of the High Court ruling, which found that Parliament must vote on triggering the process of quitting the EU, does not bode well for the government. The lower court, presided over by no less than the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales, has dealt a blow to Brexit, but by no means a fatal one.

If there is a vote, the House of Commons is 80% in favour of Remain and in theory will refuse to activate Article 50.

But the overwhelming bulk of the 180 or so Tory MPs who were pro the EU will adopt of position of personal opposition to Brexit but respect for the will of the electorate. Even if they do not in fact feel such respect for the outcome on June 23, they will not want to bring down the government.

But there are nonetheless huge headaches ahead for Theresa May’s government. Her majority is so small that it will only take a handful of disgruntled Conservative MPs to bring the government down. There might be a hardcore who feel so strongly about the EU that they put it before party.

Labour MPs do not want to fight an election under Jeremy Corbyn, but they will also want to inflict maximum damage on a Conservative prime minister.

Only a very small number of Labour MPs supported Brexit, among them the Ulster-born MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey.

The arithmetic is so tight that the 11 unionist MPs will be central to the future survival of the government.

There was good news yesterday for Mrs May when the UUP said that its two MPs would vote to trigger Article 50, despite the party’s overall ambivalence about Brexit.

These are uncharted waters for the UK in constitutional terms.

While this newspaper acknowledged that there were strong arguments for and against Brexit, the matter was put to the nation and its decision must be implemented.