May: Legal defeat will not derail plans for withdrawal

Posted By: January 25, 2017

Irish News. Belfast.Wednesday, January 25, 2017

THE Tory government’s defeat in a historic court battle over Brexit will not derail Theresa May’s plan to trigger negotiations on withdrawal from the EU by the end of March, Downing Street said last night.

With Labour declaring it will not frustrate the invocation of Article 50 of the EU treaties to kick off the talks, there was little doubt the prime minister can get a bill through Parliament.

But she risks having her hands tied in negotiations by conditions inserted by MPs into the legislation, with the Scottish National Party declaring it will table 50 “serious and substantive” amendments.

By a majority of eight to three, judges at the Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument that the prime minister could use prerogative powers to kick off the talks under Article 50, ruling instead it must first seek Parliament’s approval.

Ministers are now expected to publish a short bill authorizing the invocation of Article 50, with votes to take place in the Houses of Commons and Lords soon.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright – who led the government’s legal fight – said ministers were “disappointed” by the ruling, but added: “The government will comply with the judgment of the court and do all that is necessary to implement it.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The British people voted to leave the EU, and the government will deliver on their verdict – triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March. Today’s ruling does nothing to change that.

“It’s important to remember that Parliament backed the referendum by a margin of six to one and has already indicated its support for getting on with the process of exit to the timetable we have set out.

“We respect the Supreme Court’s decision, and will set out our next steps to Parliament shortly.”

To relief in Downing Street, the Supreme Court judges unanimously rejected the argument that Mrs. May must also consult devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales before triggering Article 50.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would not “frustrate the process for invoking Article 50” but would seek to amend the legislation to prevent the UK becoming a “bargain basement tax haven.”

“Labour is demanding a plan from the government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given parliamentary approval,” Mr. Corbyn said.

The SNP said it would put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to the legislation.

Former first minister Alex Salmond said: “If Theresa May is intent on being true to her word that Scotland and the other devolved administrations are equal partners in this process, then now is the time to show it.”

Liberal Democrats, who have just nine MPs but more than 100 peers, will vote against Article 50 unless there is a guarantee of the public having a vote on the final deal, said leader Tim Farron.

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall said: “The will of the people will be heard, and woe betides those politicians or parties that attempt to block, delay, or in any other way subvert that will,” he said.

The Supreme Court ruling was welcomed by Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the case against the government.

“This ruling today means that MPs we have elected will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the government select the best course of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations,” she said.