Brexit shockwaves as court rules that MPs must vote to quit EU
Brexit could be delayed by a year, the Government believes, following the High Court ruling which blocks Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to start the exit process to leave the European Union without a vote in the Commons.
Ministers are likely to prepare an Act of Parliament to bring before the House of Commons and the House of Lords following the judgment, despite plans for a Supreme Court appeal. It would give MPs in favour of remaining in the EU the chance to debate and amend the legislation, potentially delaying Brexit by a year, senior Government sources said.
Mrs May is expected to warn Remain-supporting MPs that any attempt to block Brexit in the Commons would be in defiance of the will of 17.4 million Leave voters, the biggest mandate in British political history.
Parliament has a significant majority of Remain-supporters, with about 480 of 650 MPs believed to have backed the failed attempt to keep Britain in the EU.
The Government immediately said that it would appeal to the Supreme Court after the judges declared that Mrs May does not have the power to bypass MPs by relying on royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 and begin the two-year period of divorce negotiations with Brussels.
However, a member of Mrs May's Government said last night that ministers were resigned to losing the case.
Now even her supporters have conceded that if Europhile MPs attempt to stop - or water down - Brexit, the prime minister could be forced to call an early general election in an attempt to increase her majority in Parliament. Number 10 last night insisted that Mrs May has no intention of going to the country until 2020.
However, backbenchers said she could be forced to call a national vote if MPs are seen to be attempting to block Brexit.
A senior minister said efforts to rush the legislation through Parliament would result in a delay of up to a year or longer, because the bill is not classed as an emergency and MPs will be free to amend it.
Delivering yesterday's ruling, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that to use Royal Prerogative to trigger the exit clause would go against "the fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament".
Immediately after the decision a group of Conservative remain-backing MPs vowed to use the ruling to win a watered-down Brexit deal and prevent the Government from withdrawing from the EU.
Pro-remain MPs demanded Mrs May set out a detailed plan on how she will negotiate the terms of the deal with EU nations, something she is keen to resist. The MPs are expected to use the Bill process in Parliament to try to amend legislation to slow Brexit down. Both Nick Herbert and Nicky Morgan called for a clearer plan and more detail on what the Government intends to do in formal talks with the EU.
Mrs Morgan said: "It does need to be not just a vote, but a formal short Bill about the triggering of Article 50, and then the focus is on that. The other thing, of course, that Parliament will want then is a clearer plan on the Government's Brexit plans and that will be, I think, important in helping the Government to win that vote."
Last night George Osborne, the former chancellor, welcomed a "substantive discussion in parliament with the Government about the nature of our new relationship with Europe". He added: "I would be arguing for the closest possible trading and economic relationship with Europe, outside of the EU, because we've got to respect the referendum."
The Supreme Court will hear the appeal case in December but it will not deliver a ruling until the middle of January, leaving just 10 weeks between the result and Mrs May's March deadline for triggering Article 50.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister ruled out an appeal to the European Court of Justice if the Supreme Court case is not successful.
Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said that the ruling was an example of the "uncertainty" that could affect the economy during Brexit. Mrs May will today speak to
European leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker and tell them the court ruling has not disrupted her "resolve" to take Britain out of the EU or "altered her timetable".