Government must seek MPs’ approval before Brexit begins, say judges

The Union flag and the EU flag
The Union flag and the EU flag

Three judges have ruled against the Prime Minister’s decision to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the UK’s exit from the European Union without the prior authority of Parliament.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the Government is “disappointed” at the High Court ruling that Theresa May cannot trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union without the prior approval of MPs.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Fox said “the Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum”.

“The Government is disappointed by the court’s judgement,” he said.

“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Acts of Parliament. The Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.

“This judgment raises important and complex matters of law and it’s right that we consider it carefully before deciding how to proceed.”

He added: “I have nothing to add other than to reiterate that it’s right that the Government will consider carefully before deciding how to proceed following the judgment.”

In one of the most important constitutional cases in generations, three senior judges ruled that the Prime Minister cannot use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the UK’s exit from the EU without the prior authority of Parliament.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is lobbying to keep Britain in the European single market and against a so-called “hard Brexit”, described the result as “significant indeed”.

Interim Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he was worried that politicians were attempting to block or delay Brexit and warned that such a move would provoke huge public anger.

“I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand,” he said. “Last night at the Spectator Parliamentary Awards I had a distinct feeling that our political class, who were out in force, do not accept the 23rd of June referendum result.”

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

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron urged the Government to now set out its negotiating strategy to Parliament before triggering Article 50, which Mrs May has promised to do before the end of March.

The PM has insisted that she cannot reveal her hand before beginning negotiations.

But Mr Farron said: “It is disappointing that this Government was so intent on undermining parliamentary sovereignty and democratic process that they forced this decision to be made in the court, but I welcome the news today that MPs will get to vote on the triggering of Article 50.

“Given the strict two-year timetable of exiting the EU once Article 50 is triggered, it is critical that the Government now lay out their negotiating strategy to Parliament, before such a vote is held.

“So far May’s team have been all over the place when it comes to prioritising what is best for Britain, and it’s time they pull their socks up and start taking this seriously.

“Ultimately, the British people voted for a departure but not for a destination, which is why what really matters is allowing them to vote again on the final deal, giving them the chance to say no to an irresponsible hard Brexit that risks our economy and our jobs.”

Leave campaigner Dominic Raab described the decision as “disappointing”.

The Tory former minister said: “This case is a plain attempt to block Brexit by people who are out of touch with the country and refuse to accept the result.

“However, the vote to leave the EU was clear and they should not seek to obstruct it.

“Leaving the EU provides us with the opportunity to create a society which works for all. Instead of trying to row back on the referendum result, the country should be moving forward and working together to make a success of Brexit.”

A flurry of excitement swept through the House of Commons chamber as news of the court’s judgment spread.

Former health minister Ben Bradshaw briefly put his hands up in the air with glee as he heard the result, while Labour MP Kevin Brennan demanded to know if the Government will “respect the ruling of the court”.

But pro-Brexit MPs were quick to denounce the decision, with Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) urging ministers to “deplore” it, as he does.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said the ruling meant Mrs May and her Cabinet would not have “total control” over Britain’s future.

“We welcome this ruling, which shows that ministers do not have the power to trigger Article 50 without consulting Parliament,” she said.

“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.

“The Green Party will continue to fight to protect free movement, workers’ rights and the vital environmental protections we currently have as part of the EU.”

Labour MP and constitutional expert Graham Allen said the Supreme Court now faces “its first historic test” in hearing the Government’s appeal against the ruling.

He said: “It is the beginning of defining more clearly and honestly a separation of powers in the UK, which has hitherto been shrouded in mystery.

“Parliament can no longer be the poodle of Government of any political complexion.

“On fundamental matters of our democracy, Parliament must not only be consulted but, as on Article 50, legislate.

“This is not to overturn the decision in principle by the British people but to give it full life.

“I welcome the decision of the High Court and now hope the Supreme Court upholds the sovereignty of Parliament which was such a core part of the reason to leave the EU.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord (Menzies) Campbell of Pittenweem said the ruling was a “slap in the face” for Mrs May.

“This is a clear illustration of the well-known legal principle that no matter how high you are, the law is above you,” he said.

“It is a slap in the face for the Government. It shows the dangers of playing ducks and drakes with the constitution and particularly the sovereignty of Parliament.”