We have been waiting for something like this ever since we took the momentous decision to leave the EU earlier this summer. The first legal challenge to decide what Brexit actually means in real terms took place today and this afternoon’s High Court decision did not disappoint in that respect.
It was a judicial bombshell delivered by the UK’s lawmakers to both Theresa May and her Government. A panel of three of our most senior judges have ruled that in order for us to trigger Article 50 and leave the EU, we will need to have a vote in Parliament to allow that to happen.
But what does that actually mean for us?
Firstly, it will mean that we will not continue down the road to Brexit without a series of checks and balances to ensure that we are on the right track. The entire process will not just be left in the hands of an unelected (by the people) leader and her appointed cabinet of ministers. Parliament will oversee and scrutinise the process.
Is this better for us?
The UK is a parliamentary democracy. Policy decisions are not decided by us as individuals. We elect a parliament to make these decisions for us. This parliament is governed by an executive (Ms May’s government) and the executive is accountable to the parliament. This formula is applied in all matters that affect our state. Why should Brexit be any different?
What was the essence of the judgement?
The question before the High Court was, whether as a matter of UK constitutional law, the Government is entitled to give notice of a decision to leave the EU under Article 50 by exercising the Crown’s prerogative power, without parliament voting on the decision.
When deciding on the constitutional principles of Brexit, the government was seeking to rely on its “prerogative” to trigger Article 50 without consulting parliament.
The Court held that parliament (and not the executive) is sovereign in these types of cases and can make or revoke any law it chooses.
The Court went on to say: “For the reasons set out in the judgment, we decide that 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.”
What was the Government’s reaction?
As expected, the Government immediately confirmed it would appeal the decision.
Leave has been granted to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, where for the first time in its existence, all 11 Judges of the Supreme Court will preside over the appeal, set for 7-8 December 2016.
What was the market’s reaction?
Immediately following the decision, Sterling jumped 1.5 % to just shy of $1.25, in a rare day of strength for the currency that fell 6 % in October.
The markets received another boost soon after with the Bank of England announcing the economy had ridden through Brexit better than expected and increased its prediction for economic growth from 0.8% to 1.4% for 2017.
Will the decision halt Brexit?
This is unlikely. Even if the decision to trigger Article 50 goes to a parliamentary vote, analysts are predicting that the decision to exit the EU will be upheld. The issues raised by this legal challenge are however, deeper than just that.
Those that believe that we should have remained in the EU have been given hope. Their ultimate worry was that the Brexit process would be rushed through without proper planning or deep thought and that ultimately, we would be “throwing out the baby with the bath water” and the UK would suffer hugely as a result.
They also wished to make sure that the wishes of the 48% who voted to remain are taken seriously and actually considered (even if they are ultimately rejected) in the Brexit process.
We may be still on course for a Brexit but what form that Brexit will take and how much power will be given to Theresa May and her “Brexiteer cabinet” to make important negotiating decisions on our behalf is the point that we are discussing and what interested the Judges in Court today:
At first instance, it appears that our democratically elected MPs should have a real say in how the process is managed and that is a relief for a number of people who support the system of democracy that we operate under in the UK.
We are actually being forced to really look at our system of government and decide on what system we prefer and what system actually suits us: Today’s ruling meant that it is still government “for the people and by the people” – But strictly in the form of a parliamentary democracy.
If the Supreme Court does uphold today’s decision, there would even be the possibility of an early general election as we spin into something of a constitutional crisis.
We will keep you updated as developments come to light.
Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based in London’s West End. We have dedicated and highly experienced solicitors who can assist you with any advice you require regarding the implications of Brexit on your business or personal life. For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.
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