Saturday 24 March 2018

Tories to rush in new bill after court ruling stalls May's plans

Gina Miller, the businesswoman who led the challenge to a Brexit without a parliamentary vote speaks outside the Supreme Court in London following a majority ruling against the UK government. Photo: Getty
Gina Miller, the businesswoman who led the challenge to a Brexit without a parliamentary vote speaks outside the Supreme Court in London following a majority ruling against the UK government. Photo: Getty

Colin Ferris

Legislation will be introduced "within days" to keep Theresa May's timetable for leaving the EU on track, after the British prime minister suffered defeat in a historic legal battle over Brexit.

By a majority of eight to three, judges at the Supreme Court rejected the government's plan to use prerogative powers to trigger withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, ruling that ministers must first obtain the consent of Parliament.

Downing Street insisted the ruling would not derail the prime minister's deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March. Brexit secretary David Davis told the House of Commons that a "straightforward" bill would be tabled to give effect to the decision of Britain's voters.

He said the Supreme Court ruling did not affect the fact Britain would be leaving the EU in line with the result of the 2016 referendum, telling MPs: "There can be no turning back. The point of no return was passed on June 23 last year."

Delivering the court's verdict, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger stressed: "The issues in these proceedings have nothing to do with whether the UK should exit from the EU, or the terms or timetable for that exit."

Read more: Legislation 'within days' to keep Brexit timetable on track after May's historic legal defeat

Withdrawal from the EU would mean a "fundamental change" to the UK's laws by cutting off one of its sources, as well as changing the legal rights of British citizens, he said.

"The UK's constitutional arrangements require such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament," Lord Neuberger said. "To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries."

No date has yet been set to begin the process of taking an Article 50 bill through the Commons and Lords, with officials at Mr Davis's Department for Exiting the EU due to finalise its wording over the coming days.

"Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this legislation, but I trust no-one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people or frustrate or delay the process of exiting the EU," Mr Davis said.

With Labour declaring it would not frustrate the invocation of Article 50, there is little doubt Mrs May can get a bill through Parliament. But she risks having her hands tied in negotiations by any conditions inserted by MPs into the legislation, with the Scottish National Party declaring it would table 50 "serious and substantive" amendments.

Mr Davis resisted pressure from MPs in the Commons to commit himself to a White Paper setting out Mrs May's objectives in withdrawal negotiations.

Number 10 insisted Mrs May had already set out her aims in full in a speech last week, but the chair of the Commons exiting the EU committee, Hilary Benn, said the failure to spell them out would show "a lack of respect" to Parliament.

Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, warned that the PM's speech set out a "high-risk" strategy, containing "big gaps, inconsistencies and unanswered questions" which could impose a heavy cost on British families and businesses.

To relief in Downing Street, the judges unanimously rejected a bid to require Mrs May to consult devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The SNP's Alex Salmond confirmed plans to table multiple amendments, adding: "If Theresa May is intent on being true to her word that Scotland and the other devolved administrations are equal partners in this process, then now is the time to show it."

The ruling was welcomed by investment broker Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the case against the government.

She said: "This ruling today means that MPs we have elected will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the government select the best course in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations."

Irish Independent

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