British Court Adds a Twist to the Brexit Plans

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Photo: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images

Some Londoners are already feeling the Brexit fallout, but the British government’s path toward leaving the European Union took a turn Thursday after one of Britain’s top courts ruled that Parliament must vote on and approve the exit plans.

The High Court’s decision dealt a setback to Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which has promised to trigger the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU no later than March 31. Not so fast, the High Court essentially said in its ruling: “The most fundamental rule of the U.K.’s constitution is that Parliament is sovereign and can make and unmake any law it chooses. As an aspect of the sovereignty of Parliament it has been established for hundreds of years that the Crown … cannot by exercise of prerogative powers override legislation enacted by Parliament.”

May’s government has already said that it will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which will likely hear the case sometime in early December, reports The Guardian. A spokesperson for the prime minister said the court’s ruling would not “derail Article 50 or the timetable we have set out. We are determined to continue with our plan.” (Article 50 is a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that sets out terms for countries to voluntarily leave the EU; once Article 50 is “triggered,” the negotiations on the terms of exit begin.)

So what does this ruling mean for Brexit? The odds are basically nil that the court’s decision (if also affirmed by the Supreme Court) will stop the process — the “Leave” camp won the referendum in June with about 52 percent of the vote — but it could complicate, and potentially stall, May’s March 31 deadline. The majority of MPs supported the “Remain” side, but there’s almost no chance they’ll ignore the referendum results of their constituents. Yet many pro-Remain people and the markets are counting this as a win. They’re hopeful that Parliament might be in a better position to negotiate a “soft” exit — a sort of Brexit Lite — which would maintain the U.K.’s access to the European single market, in the model of places such as Norway.

There’s still a lot that’s unclear at this point — and one more court challenge to go. The U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, the “Leave” champion, said the decision risked a “betrayal” of the referendum voters.

Indeed, as The Guardian points out, this decision probably won’t do much to heal the post-Brexit political divide:

“It … risks driving an even bigger wedge between leavers and remainers, particularly since the leavers are likely to interpret this as one more desperate attempt by the Metropolitan liberal elite to thwart the will of the people.”

Weird, sounds familiar.