back to article Top UK judges rule: Government can't pull the Article 50 trigger alone

Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger formal talks for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March have been thrown into uncertainty. Judges sitting in the United Kingdom’s highest court have ruled her government cannot trigger Article 50, the process initiating the UK’s formal negotiations to leave the UK, without the …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    Worst of both worlds

    You take the economic hit from all the uncertainty surrounding exiting the EU, but now Parliament could cancel the whole thing if the vote fails? What then, does the PM keep forcing re-votes until she gets her way? If she still can't get her way, would a re-vote that's binding this time be organized so the people can override Parliament?

    And if that fails this time around, what happens to the UK? Presumably some of the economic damage is undone in terms of the exchange rate, but I'll bet most of the price rises remain in effect, and many businesses that begun the process of relocation will probably see it through knowing that Brexit could easily return in a few years.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Worst of both worlds

      "What then, does the PM keep forcing re-votes until she gets her way?"

      I think a fail at this stage would be counted as a confidence vote which would mean a general election. Given that Labour are in no shape to fight one I doubt they'll rock the boat so it'll go through.

    2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Worst of both worlds

      Let's face it, a majority of MP's will not vote against Brexit. Regardless of their opinions on the matter, they realise it would be bad for their careers.

      However, a defeat by the government is still possible. A vote against triggering A50 is possible if the govt try to force it through with unacceptable terms (e.g. not enough scrutiny on the negotiations from Parliament). While the most extreme of the Leave voters (and the stupid ones who don't understand the process and think the Supreme Court just ruled against Brexit) would rail against MPs "ignoring the will of the people", it would actually be very sensible to ensure that controls are in place in the Act to stop TM running off and doing whatever the hell she wants.

      EDIT: Also, a defeat would probably be seen as a vote of no confidence, as mentioned above.

  2. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Can't Mrs. May appeal to some higher court in the EU?

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      A referral to the ECJ was possible on the "is article 50 binding" question but both sides agreed it was, despite the author saying it wasn't, so that particular pantomime has been avoided.

      Shame really, might have been fun watching some people explode with rage.

      1. Anonymous C0ward

        If both sides agree Article 50 is binding, isn't any final referendum just going to be either take whatever shafting Brussels gives us, or basic WTO rules? Maybe not even that if the WTO put up a fight?

        1. Lars Silver badge

          It's not Brussels shafting you, it's you shafting yourself. I never thought I would laugh at you Brits, but now I cannot prevent it anymore. Kids who fell for some snake oil salesmen, please take your brains back.

          1. Anonymous C0ward

            Wasn't me, I voted Remain.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              That's a cheap way out

              It is easy to say "I voted <opposite of what happened>" and think that absolves you from the consequences. If 5-10 years from now things are worse in the UK, it will be easy to blame that on Brexit and say "I was right all along". The thing is, there's no way to know what shape the UK would have been in 5-10 down the road if the Brexit vote had failed.

              I imagine if Trump is the disaster many expect there will be a lot of "don't blame me, I didn't vote for Trump", but we'll never know what would have happened if Clinton had won.

            2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's no 'uncertainty' about it at all.

    We are 'LEAVING'...FULL STOP.

    The court has merely said that parliament must be 'consulted', it does NOT say any vote in parliament can stop leaving.

    All the government needs to do is to inform or 'request' parliament suggest any 'advice' .

    It can quite easily totally ignore any such advice, having complied with the court, it is not bound by any advice.

    None of this is going to affect Article 50, the 'remain camp & the court claimant have 'lost' the case in that sense.

    1. TVU

      "The court has merely said that parliament must be 'consulted', it does NOT say any vote in parliament can stop leaving"

      ^ That is gravely mistaken not least because May herself gave an assurance that both parliamentary chambers would be given a vote on the final Brexit deal so therefore an eventual, and highly economically destructive, May hard Brexit offering could very well end up being voted down in both chambers.

      Memo to all Leave scribblers: think clearly and logically (if you can, that is) before you write anything down and you almost certainly will not get your own way in everything that you want.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Memo to all Leave scribblers:... you almost certainly will not get your own way in everything that you want."

        If you did you'd end up wondering thy you wanted it. Or, more likely, you'd stridently insist you didn't.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      "it does NOT say any vote in parliament can stop leaving"

      Err no, their Lordships said that Parliament must pass an Act. Mere consultation or even just a resolution won't do.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It can quite easily totally ignore any such advice, having complied with the court, it is not bound by any advice."

      If you want to shout at people and pick holes in things, just remember it can also totally ignore any such advice, having complied with the court, and it is not bound by any advisory referendum either, it 's just chosen to follow the line screamed by the Daily Fail, the Murdoch "newspapers", and of course the Home Office mandarins who wrote the Snoopers Charter (who needs Human Rights anyway?)

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "The court has merely said that parliament must be 'consulted', it does NOT say any vote in parliament can stop leaving."

      No it has not. It has said the exact opposite. You can read the judgement in full at but if you wish I can save you the effort. The relevant paragraph is number 24 on p 39 (of 97; after a long analysis of the constituational history, the relevant legislation and the legal arguments and followed by an analysis of the issues raised by the devolved governments and the minority dissenting opinions).

      "Thus, the referendum of 2016 did not change the law in a way which would

      allow ministers to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union without

      legislation. But that in no way means that it is devoid of effect. It means that, unless

      and until acted on by Parliament, its force is political rather than legal. It has already

      shown itself to be of great political significance."

      Consultation is not enough. There must be legislation. And it must be before the triggering of Article 50 as it is common ground of both parties that once invoked Article 50 cannot be stopped (para 60 on p9 if you want to check).

      It beggars belief that the Leavers are so fixed in ignoring anything whatsoever which contradicts their view of the world. It does not augur well for the future when one considers that this is the quality of knowledge and thinking which has driven their votes.

    5. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      There's no 'uncertainty' about it at all.

      No, none at all. Except:

      - what trade deals, if any, we end up with and on what terms

      - impact on the economy,

      - impact on people's rights,

      - impact on employment,

      - impact on people's wages,

      - impact on tax revenues,

      - impact on inflation,

      - impact on trade,

      - what will happen to expats in the EU

      - a multitude of other questions

      No, no uncertainty at all.

    6. Terrance Brennan

      “Any change in the law to give effect to the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by an act of parliament. To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries.”

      Not advice, not consultation, an ACT of parliament. No Act, no Article 50, FULL STOP.

  4. TVU

    Top UK judges rule: Government can't pull the Article 50 trigger alone

    All this case result did was confirm the existing precedent that a process started by parliamentary legislation ought to be ended by parliamentary legislation and not by arbitrary governing executive prerogative, i.e. chancer governments are not going to get away with attempting to take a convenient short cut to get what they want to go.

    1. Yes Me Silver badge

      All this case result did was confirm...

      ... the Bill of Rights, etc. etc. Good. But it doesn't change the outcome unless suffcient Tory and Labour MPs defy the whip and block the Article 50 bill in a few days. Hundreds of them know that this is the best thing for the country and that many Leave voters have changed their minds, so the referendum result is now meaningless. The question is whether those MPs have the moral courage required to vote Nay. You can help, by contacting your MP urgently with the message: stop Article 50 at any cost.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: All this case result did was confirm...

        "But it doesn't change the outcome unless suffcient Tory and Labour MPs defy the whip and block the Article 50 bill in a few days."

        I doubt it they would. Insufficient Tories would - even if all the pro-EU ones did there are still the sceptics. And I don't think most Labour MPs would fancy their chances in the ensuing general election; maybe a few forward looking ones might consider that a defeat there would rid them of Corbyn but on the whole MPs don't go hastening an election where they seriously consider the possibility of losing their own seats. It's not as if they can all get jobs at Sellafield or the V&A.

        A more likely outcome is that they'll demand more detail on what HMG intends to get out of negotiations; a pointless demand as, of course, what they're able to get will be unlikely to match their intent.

        There's just an outside chance that such an extended debate might bring on a sufficient swing in public opinion to encourage some to think that they personally could survive an election were they to precipitate one but I doubt it's no more than an outsider.

        The really interesting point comes in a couple of years' time when Parliament is approaching the vote on the outcome of the negotiations. The Supreme Court's decision here is predicated on the common acceptance that once invoked Article 50 is irreversible. But what happens if the outcome is sufficiently forbidding - and a substantial number of jobs have migrated overseas in anticipation - that Parliament actually votes against at that point?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "There's no 'uncertainty' about it at all."

    Except we know nothing about the deal, if we do end up leaving (which is not a certainty)...

    ... all possible outcomes are still in play up to the point that a new relationship with the EU is defined in law.

    Everything is as clear as mud. Now with Trump in office the pound is back at 1.25 (for a while).

    Chaos and uncertainty will dominate for some time to come.

    The one thing that does look certain is the vast majority will be poorer as a result and a very very few will see their wealth expand.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    chaos, uncertainty

    AC "Chaos and uncertainty will dominate for some time to come." - quite right.

    One problem - I'm currently re-doing a business plan with a client, and the Bank wants to see a three year forecast. Fine, no problem with that - provided of course government will give me a three year forecast on the tax/tariff position for SMEs that have cross-border trade within Europe. What allowances are HMRC making for things here? "Leave" campaign has certainly had long enough to come up with an answer for that; after all, their answer on the 350 million was detailed down to the nearest £50, wasn't it?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sing along chaps!

    I put my right hand in

    I put my right hand out

    I give my right hand, shake, shake, shake, and turn myself about

    1. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Sing along chaps!

      That comment reminds me of a story about an old teacher/surgeon who told his new students about how they have to learn not only about the human body but also about the "bodily fluids" and stuff like that. In front of his pupils he then dropped his trousers, turned his arse towards them, bent over and stuck his index finger into his arse.

      He then turned around and put his finger into his mouth and liked it clean with a "stone" face, not that amused about it. Then he thoroughly cleaned his hands and mouth and pulled up his trousers. And then he asked his students to do the same, and they did, probably not that amused either.

      After a short pause, he continued, before you wash yourself I would like to point out that if you want to succeed in this profession you have to learn to pay attention.... you did notice that I put the index finger on my right hand into my arse while I liked the index finger on my left hand.

      If you have heard this before it's just one of those stories or you live in the same town as I. And what the hell was this article about.

      1. eldakka Silver badge

        Re: Sing along chaps!

        Variations of that story have been around for decades.

        I saw a TV show, must have been in the 90's (it only lasted one season from memory), it was a doctor series set in a hospital. On the first day of intake of new interns (or what ever you call the first year of newly graduated from university doctors), the chief of medicine pulled that trick, but it was a sample of urine in a flask, and it was different fingers on the same hand.

        So yeah, it's not a new anecdote, it's rather common.It's probably one of the standard shits-and-giggles side-benefits of being the teacher. It wouldn't surprise me if something like it was pulled by Plato or Aristotle in ancient times on their students, or Sun-Tzu in military training, hell, Siddhārtha Gautama probably pulled it on any wet under the ears followers.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Sing along chaps!

          @eldakka. yes thanks, i have that feeling too, this doesn't, of course, prove that the doctor I referred to did not pull that trick too. One of the funny things you learn if you travel the world a bit is how often you will be told about "we have this joke (in this country)" and you realize you have been told the same story in other countries too. The racist stories seem to live for ever. I remember one I was told about the Russians in a East European country and next year the same shit about the "Bantu" in South Africa. I am totally convinced that "joke" was told about the Jews too at some time (and now about the Arabs) like also about the black in the USA. That kind of shit will probably never die.

          And if you listen and laugh at comedians in different countries you find that they copy each others jokes quite often, and why not. Some of the jokes we tell were probably "invented" pro the stone age. Then again lots of funny jokes are language related and mean nothing in any other language.

          But I must admit I am pissed off with the rhetoric related to both the election in the USA and most of all related to Brexit.

          I seriously am, and I have started to question my understanding and appreciation of the whole country, and yes I know it's not the Brits I know but all those others. I have to stop here and turn to a more positive topic like this:

          What the fuck next. Boeing admits Airbus stole successfully during 2016. Airbus disturbed by Boeing's thiefs in Iran. CEO meets selsmen - now thiefs, how much did you steal last week.

          And that's nothing compared to what has been delivered. Never in my life time have I heard/read as much rubbish as now from the UK.

  8. Winkypop Silver badge


    There really needs to be a "pop corn" emote....

  9. John Lilburne

    David Davis is expected later today ...

    ... to propose 42 days detention for anyone who does not agree with the government's idiocy.

    1. Dr Paul Taylor

      Re: David Davis is expected later today ...

      Somebody put a petition on the Parliament website proposing an amendment to the Treason Act to the effect that anyone campaigning for UK to rejoin the EU would be guilty of it. Next we'll have one making it a criminal offence to speak French or Greek (both of which I'm studying at the moment). The Brexiters certainly have a particularly sick mindset and have no comprehension of what Democracy is, unless, that is, we translate it as mob-rule. Congratulations, by the way, to the Commentard who read the Supreme Court judgement: I forbad myself to do so because other things need to be done.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely if the Commons is representative then it should support BrExit by a majority vote of ~52% vs ~48% - in particular, any MP whose constituency (i.e. the people that MP actually represents) voted against BrExit should not support BrExit (although I suppose their best bet might be to abstain).

    Perhaps the hysteria in some sections of the press over the court judgement indicates determination to ignore the narrowness of the vote ?

    1. John Lilburne

      "indicates determination to ignore the narrowness of the vote ?"

      Since the vote opinion polls have consistently shown that about 60% of the UK population approve of the EU. That is why the press etc are screaming loudly, they know that as time goes on and the full impact becomes known brexit will be dropped.

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