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Britain's Supreme Court rules Parliament must have a say on Brexit

Britain's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Prime Minister Theresa May must get Parliament to sign off before triggering Britain's exit from the European Union.

The decision adds a hurdle to May's promise to invoke Article 50 – the never-before-used mechanism for getting out of the E.U. – by the end of March.

Most observers, however, do not expect the decision to derail the Brexit process, which was set in motion when the country voted for departure by a margin of 52-to-48 in a June referendum.

The Supreme Court's decision turned on the question of whether the prime minister or Parliament should have the last word in deciding Britain's status in the E.U.

May's government had argued that the principle of "royal prerogative," enshrined in British law, allows her to decide whether Britain remains a part of international treaties.

But Gina Miller, a businesswoman, brought a case to court arguing that Parliament in Britain is sovereign, and must be allowed a say on Brexit before May formally launches the process.

Miller's view was upheld in a November decision by the London-based High Court for England and Wales. The government appealed the ruling, setting up Tuesday's Supreme Court decision, which came on a vote of 8 to 3.

Miller celebrated the ruling, calling it confirmation that "only Parliament can grant rights to the British people, and only Parliament can take them away."

Britain's attorney general, Jeremy Wright, said he was "disappointed" by the decision, but insisted it would not derail the government's intention to move ahead with its E.U. exit. "The people of the United Kingdom have already made that decision," he said.

Tuesday's ruling had been widely expected, and May is now likely to move quickly to secure Parliament's approval of her plans.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said after the ruling that Labour "will not frustrate the process of invoking Article 50."

But he said the party would make demands in exchange for its support, including that Britain push for access to Europe's single market, that workers' rights are respected and that Parliament get a "meaningful vote" at the end of the Brexit negotiations to approve or reject any deal.

In a partial victory for the government on Tuesday, the court ruled that lawmakers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not have an individual veto over the government's Brexit plans.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against an E.U. departure in the June vote. Had the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies each get their own individual say in Brexit planning, it could have imposed a far more serious obstacle to May's plans than any she is now likely to face.

Tuesday's decision was considered one of the most constitutionally significant for Britain in decades, with important legal precedents regardless of which way the court ruled. The verdict was read by the court's president, David Neuberger, in a short hearing at the court's neo-Gothic chambers in central London, just across the street from the iconic towers that mark Parliament's home at Westminster.

Most members of the U.K. Parliament were anti-Brexit. But since the November High Court ruling, the country's political winds have shifted, and analysts believe that most pro-remain lawmakers would not try to block Brexit altogether – though they may try to influence its nature.

May signaled in a speech last week that she intends to seek a clean break from the E.U., with Britain leaving behind both Europe's single market for goods and services and its customs union for trade.

Once Britain triggers Article 50, it will have two years to negotiate the terms of its departure.

Despite the country being closely divided on the question of whether Britain should get out of the E.U. at all, polls have shown that May's approach – regarded as a "hard Brexit" – has been well received. Her Conservative Party has a wide lead over the opposition Labour Party, which has struggled to develop a unified position on Brexit.

The November High Court ruling had elicited a strongly negative reaction from pro-Brexit politicians and newspapers. The Daily Mail, a leading British tabloid, ran photos of the court's judges on the next day's front page along with the headline "Enemies of the People."

Pro-Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage told ITV news Tuesday, before the Supreme Court's ruling was announced, that people were getting "very angry" by what he described as attempts by the British establishment to obstruct the public's will. But he expressed confidence that Brexit would go ahead.

Ken Clarke, a pro-remain Conservative lawmaker, told the BBC before the verdict that the idea of not giving Parliament a say on Brexit "strikes me as totally undemocratic. It is not exactly mob rule but it is the tyranny of the majority to silence people's opinions on complicated issues of due importance to the future."

[Source: By Griff Witte, The Washington Post, London, 24Jan17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 25Jan17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.