UK Supreme Court: Article 50 needs Westminster Approval

PRACTICE AREA GROUP:
Corporate

The UK’s Supreme Court has today ruled the UK Government cannot trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval. Prime Minister Theresa May had sought, in her speech last week, to defuse the issue of a Westminster vote by promising that any deal agreed with the EU would be put to Parliament.  Today’s ruling means that not only will she have to go to Parliament at the end of the process, Mrs May cannot now begin the process without MP’s having their say. The Supreme Court ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the UK Prime Minister cannot use royal prerogative to trigger Article 50.  Today’s ruling will require a bill to move speedily through both Houses of Parliament if Mrs May is to fulfil her pledge to trigger the Article 50 process by the end of March.

In what will come as a relief to the UK Government, the Supreme Court ruled that the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do not have the right to veto the triggering of Article 50. While the devolved governments are required to comply with EU law, relations with the EU are reserved to the UK Government and parliament.  There is a convention that Westminster will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without consent of the devolved governments, but the Supreme Court ruled that this is not legally binding.  Had the Supreme Court ruled that the devolved governments had a veto, there would have been little chance of the March timeline being met.  Speculation will mount as to the amendments MPs might seek to make to Mrs May’s new bill but from a Brexit perspective, all that the Bill will need to do is allow Article 50 to be triggered. Therefore, the March timeline is unlikely to be materially affected.