By Lyndsey Hall
High court judges have ruled that the government cannot trigger article 50 and begin the process for leaving the European Union without a vote in parliament.
Theresa May announced last month that article 50, the official EU exit application, will be triggered by the end of March next year.
Now, the high court has ruled that MPs must have a say, and that parliament – not the prime minister – would need to start the exit process. As a result, three high court judges have been attacked in the media and labelled as “enemies of the people” for blocking Brexit.
One of the two main claimants in the high court case, Gina Miller, a business woman and philanthropist, said that the case was not an attempt to overturn the referendum decision. According to Miller, the intention was to “answer a fundamental legal question about the powers that can be used by the prime minister and whether they can side-step parliament”.
Government had previously believed that it could make the decision to leave the EU based on its executive powers under royal prerogative. Royal prerogative gives the sovereign certain privileges and authorities and is the source of many of the government’s powers.
Now, the question is whether government will appeal the decision, and whether that will just delay the inevitable. Whilst most MPs voted to remain, most represent constituencies that voted leave. It will be interesting to see whether they ultimately vote according to the wishes of their constituents or stick to their guns.
In the week since the high court ruling was announced, Labour has come out and said that it will not block a parliamentary vote to trigger article 50. Shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “Labour accepts that the government has a mandate to leave the EU – the mandate given to it on 23 June”.
However, he did say that the Labour party may try to amend any bill to begin the process of Brexit, and seek to preserve access to the EU’s customs union and single market.
The decision by the high court and the upcoming parliamentary vote could instigate an early general election. It would take a two-thirds majority in the Commons to trigger an early election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. This could be one way to sort out the conflict between what MPs think is in the national interest and what their voters want.
Do you agree with the judges’ decision to hold a vote in parliament? Or do you think it signals an erosion of royal prerogative? We’d love to hear from you, leave your thoughts in the comments or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter.