UNITED KINGDOM (Jan. 24, 2017) – Brexit procedures cannot begin without Parliament vote, Supreme Court rules


The Supreme Court has ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May must obtain the approval of Parliament before invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and beginning the process of leaving the European Union.

The ruling, announced Tuesday morning, was expected after a High Court reached the same conclusion in November. It is not expected to delay May’s timeline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March.

Key Points:

  • The ruling does not overturn the results of the referendum to leave the EU and does not have any immediate effect on the immigration status of U.K. or EU nationals.
  • While Parliament could theoretically delay triggering Article 50, this seems unlikely. Conservatives have a working majority in the House of Commons and Brexit minister David Davis said Tuesday that legislation to invoke Article 50 would be introduced within days.
  • The Court also ruled that the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not need to be consulted before the U.K. begins the process of leaving the EU.

Background: The case was brought by U.K. citizens and other interested parties, including some EU nationals living in the U.K., who argued that it was unconstitutional for the government to begin withdrawal from the EU without Parliamentary assent. A High Court agreed with this position in November, rejecting the government’s argument that it could use the royal prerogative to invoke Article 50 without the go-ahead from Parliament.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling by an 8-3 margin.

May outlined plans for a “hard Brexit,” including the U.K.’s departure from the single market, last week. May also said that she would like to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the U.K. at an early stage in the negotiations, but will only do so if there is a reciprocal deal for U.K. nationals in the EU. Tuesday’s ruling could give some leverage to a cross-party group of MPs to protect the rights of EEA nationals in the U.K. during negotiations, but there is no guarantee at this point.

BAL Analysis: While the decision is a setback for the government, it does not appear that it will significantly change the timing of when the U.K. will invoke Article 50. The ruling does provide grounds for greater parliamentary involvement in Brexit negotiations generally, however. BAL will continue to follow Brexit-related immigration developments and will provide regular updates to clients going forward.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@bal.com.

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