Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The judgement means Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing – although this is expected to happen in time for the government’s 31 March deadline.
During the Supreme Court hearing, campaigners argued that denying the UK Parliament a vote was undemocratic.
But the government said it already had the powers to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – getting talks under way – without the need for consulting MPs and peers. It wants to do this by the end of March.
Reading out the judgement, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said: “By a majority of eight to three, the Supreme Court today rules that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an act of Parliament authorising it to do so.”
The court also rejected arguments that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly should get to vote on Article 50 before it is triggered.
Lord Neuberger said: “Relations with the EU are a matter for the UK government.”
Outside the court, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was “disappointed” but would “comply” and do “all that is necessary” to implement the court’s judgement.
Supreme Court ruling – key points
By Dominic Casciani – BBC home affairs correspondent
- The 1972 Act that took the UK into the then EEC creates a process by which EU law becomes a source of UK law
- So long as that act remains in force, it means that EU law is an “independent and overriding source” of the UK’s legal system
- Unless Parliament decides otherwise, this remains the case
- Withdrawal from the EU makes a fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements because it will cut off the source of EU law
- Such a fundamental change will be the inevitable effect of a notice being served
- The UK constitution requires such changes can only be made by Parliament
- The fact that withdrawal from the EU would remove some existing domestic rights of UK residents also renders it impermissible for the government to withdraw from the EU Treaties without prior parliamentary authority
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The British people voted to leave the EU, and the government will deliver on their verdict – triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March. Today’s ruling does nothing to change that.”
Gina Miller, one of the campaigners who brought the case against the government, said Brexit was “the most divisive issue of a generation”, but added that her victory was “not about politics, but process”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.”
But the Scottish National Party said it would put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to the government’s parliamentary bill for triggering Article 50.
Article 50 will begin exit talks with the EU, which are expected to last up to two years.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said he would press for a second referendum on the final deal reached between the UK government and the EU.
The case against the government was brought by Ms Miller, an investment manager, and hairdresser Deir Tozetti Dos Santos.
The Supreme Court’s judgement backs that made by the High Court last year, against which the government appealed.
In last June’s referendum, UK voters backed Brexit by 51.9% to 48.1%.
Source: BBC .Com