Last week, the UK’s highest court ruled against the Government in its case to trigger Brexit proceedings without consulting Parliament. The question of ‘what happens now’ is on the lips of many, but where did this all start? Let’s take a look back at the beginning.
Back in July 2016, businesswoman Gina Miller filed judicial proceedings in an attempt to prevent Prime Minister Theresa May from triggering Article 50 – the section of EU law governing the withdrawal of member states – without consulting Parliament. Her argument? Government Ministers do not have the authority to trigger Article 50, only Parliament has that power.
Whilst many supported Miller, arguing that to deny Parliament a say was both undemocratic and unconstitutional, the Government took a different view. They argued that under the Royal Prerogative – special powers handed to Ministers by the Queen – they had the authority to trigger the proceedings without consulting Parliament. This was backed up by the argument that MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding the EU referendum, and in doing so had therefore already given their approval.
Put simply, Miller – a Remainer – wanted to force the Government to consult Parliament on the terms of the UK’s EU divorce deal. This would force them to introduce a bill into Parliament outlining their aims and negotiating strategy for Brexit, and give Members of Parliament the chance to debate and scrutinise them.
The case was heard by the High Court of Justice in October 2016, with a judgement issued the following month. In a statement the three presiding judges ruled against the Government, stating that Brexit Secretary David Davis alone did not have sufficient powers to give notice of the UK’s intent to leave the EU.
Dismayed, the Government vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. To give this some context, all UK courts are ranked by hierarchy, dictating their seniority and powers. The High Court of Justice is the secondary court for civil proceedings, while the Supreme Court is the UK’s highest court, dealing only with appeals on points of law.
In December 2016, the government’s appeal began. After a lengthy and divisive court case, earlier today the eleven Supreme Court Justices gave a majority ruling of eight to three to dismiss the government’s appeal. In a statement delivered by the Court’s President, Lord Neuberger, they said “the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament”.
So, what happens next? The government will have to introduce a bill into the House of Commons, outlining their strategy for triggering Article 50. This means MPs will have a chance to debate the proposals, and suggest amendments. Only once this bill has passed through both Houses will the government be able to begin divorce proceedings with the EU, although whether that occurs in time to meet the Prime Minister’s ‘end of March’ deadline remains to be seen.
However, in the face of all this uncertainty, one thing can be certain. This ruling does not change the fact that the UK will leave the European Union, it merely changes the terms by which we do it.