“Remainers”—the campaigners opposed to Britain leaving the European Union—were jubilant Thursday after the nation’s High Court ruled that the process of exiting the bloc cannot begin without the government winning a further vote in parliament.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government immediately said it would appeal the decision. May had argued that the summer’s referendum, in which the British electorate decided by a margin of 52-48 to leave the EU, negated the need for a further vote in Britain’s House of Commons, and that the now-notorious Article 50, a clause in the EU treaty that begins a two-year exit process, could be triggered without parliamentary approval.
However, in what could prove to be a pivotal decision Thursday, and one which could plunge the U.K. into an unprecedented constitutional crisis, the High Court found that the government cannot simply invoke Article 50 without a further vote in the parliamentary chamber.
In a sign of how widely feared a Brexit is by financial markets, sterling bounced on the news, gaining more than 1 percent in value against the dollar in just minutes after the decision.
In a damning and conclusive finding, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that the government’s arguments are “contrary to fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of parliament” at the end of a court case that was brought by a group of powerful Remainers headed up by Gina Miller, an influential London fund manager.
Miller—who was cheered by Remainers as she left the High Court—has consistently denied accusations that she is seeking to overturn the Brexit vote by the back door, instead presenting the case as being about the observation of due process.
In a statement minutes after the ruling, Miller said: “This case is about process, not politics. [We are] pleased to have played our part in helping form a debate on whether the rights conferred on U.K. citizens through parliament legislation 44 years ago could be casually snuffed out by the executive without parliament or our elected representatives and without proper prior consultation about the government’s intentions for Brexit.”
Miller’s claims to be nothing more than an impartial stickler for simple rules, however, have been undermined by remarks she previously made, when she said she felt “physically sick” at the referendum result.
Her lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, have argued that a referendum, “is not legally binding and for the current or future prime minister to invoke Article 50 without the approval of parliament is unlawful.”
Although the government immediately announced it would appeal the ruling, it seems likely that the timetable for Brexit will now be significantly delayed.
May recently announced, to loud cheers from the grassroots right-wing of her party at the Conservative conference, that she intended to trigger Article 50 in March 2017.
Delaying Brexit is the best hope for “Bremoaners” as the largely pro-Brexit right-wing press has labeled those who are still fighting to stay in the union and overturn the referendum result.
No election is technically due until 2020, meaning the U.K. will be out of the EU by the time it comes around, if May gets her way.
However, if the government were to collapse or resign, an early election would be called.
A poisonous debate about Article 50 in the Commons could certainly have such a result, and this is the Remainers’ best hope.
Well over half of British members of parliament do oppose leaving the EU, and many of them may choose to stage a rebellion, defy the referendum result, and vote to not trigger Article 50.
They could use as justification a wealth of data that suggests the mood on Brexit has changed as prices have begun to rise in the U.K.: In one poll of more than 10,000 voters, just 1 percent of Remainers regretted their choice, 6 percent of Leavers did.
Brexit-driven devaluation of the pound has seen the currency lose a staggering 20 percent of its value since the controversial summer referendum to leave the EU.
It is conceivable that in the event of a government collapse, a general election could then be won by a coalition of parties and independents that make their central policy the undoing of the referendum.
Tony Blair, the former PM and leader of the Labour Party, has been one of the most vocal advocates to call for the result to be overturned.
Nigel Farage, the leading Brexit campaigner and former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), said Thursday that Britain is heading to a “half Brexit” in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live.
“I see MPs from all parties saying, ‘Oh well, actually we should stay part of the single market, we should continue with our daily financial contributions.’
“I think we could be at the beginning, with this ruling, of a process where there is deliberate, willful attempt by our political class to betray 17.4 million voters.”