In a landmark ruling, Supreme Court judges today (January 24) upheld the view of the High Court that the government must consult Parliament before it triggers Article 50 in preparation to exit the UK from the European Union.
Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger read the judgement this morning.
“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,” he said.
Lord Neuberger added that the shape the legislation to exit the EU would take was up to Parliament as long as it is in keeping with constitutional processes.
The Supreme Court also rejected arguments proposing that the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be consulted, instead ruling that they do not have the right to a vote on Article 50 which would trigger the Brexit process.
The decision today was welcomed by many campaigners and organisations, including Unite, who have argued that failing to consult Parliament before taking the momentous steps to leave the EU would be decidedly undemocratic.
Attorney general Jeremy Wright said the government was “disappointed” by the decision but added that “the government will comply with the judgement of the court and do all that is necessary to implement it.”
Brexit secretary David Davis gave a statement this afternoon outlining the government’s response to the judgement.
Davis said that the bill granting the government the power to start the Brexit process would be as straightforward as possible and highlighted that the previously agreed timetable, in which Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March, still stands.
He said the legislation would be introduced in a matter of days.
Davis also warned that MPs should not use their power to scrutinise legislation to needlessly delay the Brexit process, noting that June 23 was “the point of no return” regarding Brexit.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer responded to Davis’ statement by highlighting the importance of scrutiny and accountability.
“On issues as important as this it would be wrong for the government to try to minimise the role of Parliament or to seek to avoid amendments,” he said.
“Last week the prime minister committed herself to swapping the known benefits of single market membership and the customs union for the hoped for benefits of a free trade agreement with the fall back position of breaking our economic model,” he added.
This approach, Starmer called extremely “high-risk”.
“If the prime minister fails in her endeavour the cost will be born by families, working people and communities throughout the UK,” he argued, noting that because of the government’s so far reckless approach, Parliament’s role in holding government to account is more important now than ever before.
Starmer criticised the government’s “waste of time and money” after it refused to accept the original High Court judgement that ruled that Parliament must have a say in triggering Article 50, a decision that was made more than 80 days ago and was today upheld by the Supreme Court.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey called Brexit the “most profound issue facing our country since the Second World War,” and so added that “it is correct that our elected representatives will be able to scrutinise the government’s Brexit plans. The Supreme Court judges made the right decision for the people of this country.”
“There has been scant detail in the prime minister’s statements to date,” he argued. “What she has said on workers’ rights has been ambiguous and her declaration that the country would not seek access to the single market is shocking.
“It is now for our MPs to hold the government to account,” McCluskey went on to say. “They must defend workers’ rights, both now and from future Conservative party threats. Their job now is to ensure that government pursues the best deal possible for working people and our communities, not one to please the hard right of the Tory party.”