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Brexit: Government loses Supreme Court battle - Parliament must give Article 50 go-ahead

The Government has lost its historic battle in the Supreme Court over Brexit.

Top lawyers, including Northern Ireland's Attorney General, had locked horns in the Supreme Court over whether Government ministers can use the royal prerogative to commence the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

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The highest court in the land rejected an appeal by ministers against a High Court judgment blocking their decision to begin Britain's exit from the European Union without Parliament having a say. It means Parliament must vote on legislation to trigger Brexit.

Supreme Court justices ruled, by a majority of eight to three, that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot lawfully bypass MPs and peers by using the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating the UK's divorce from its EU partners.

Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said: "By a majority of eight to three, the Supreme Court today rules that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament authorising it to do so."

The ruling is a blow to Mrs May, who has repeatedly said she intends to trigger Article 50 by the end of March following the clear majority in favour of Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.

It was won by a wide-ranging group of anti-Article 50 campaigners led by investment manager Gina Miller, 51, and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos.

The court ruled the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies did not need a say.

In its judgement, the court said: "On the devolution issues, the court unanimously concludes that neither Section 1 nor Section 75 of the NIA is of assistance in this case, and that the Sewel Convention does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation.”

Speaking after the ruling the Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the government was "disappointed" but will do "all that is necessary" to implement the ruling.


Ulster Unionist MPs, Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan said the challenge now is to find the best deal for Northern Ireland.

In a joint statement, Mr Elliott and Mr Kinahan said: “It is welcome that clarity has finally been given on this issue.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that Parliament must have a say on the triggering of Article 50. However we recognise that Parliament voted to give the people of the United Kingdom the opportunity to vote in a straight in/out referendum. 

“On the 23rd June the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and on that basis, our MPs will be voting to trigger Article 50 when the vote comes to Parliament.

“We welcome that the Supreme Court has noted that the devolved administrations will not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.

“We joined the European Economic Community as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom.

“The challenge now is to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland. It is clear that the failed DUP/Sinn Fein Executive, which has crumbled after 8 months, is incapable of addressing Northern Ireland’s unique needs in Brexit negotiations.

“In contrast, the Ulster Unionist Party have published ‘a vision for Northern Ireland outside the EU’, a plan to achieve that vision, and key asks which must be delivered.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA said the decision "undermines the value placed on the democratic mandate of our Assembly".

Mr Eastwood said: “This judgement marks a significant and serious departure from our devolution settlement. It significantly undermines the value placed on the democratic mandate of our Assembly. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, yet the Northern Ireland Assembly is being denied any role or rights in the upcoming negotiations with the European Union.

“The SDLP is now the only party standing by the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland at Westminster. We will be the only voice of the 56% who voted remain.

“Although the Supreme Court disagreed with the view that there is a legal requirement to gain legislative consent from the Assembly, it remains our view that it a political requirement to gain that consent and this will be top of our agenda in any post-election negotiations.

“That agenda will also include gaining special status for Northern Ireland in the event of Britain leaving the EU. 

“Today's judgement is particularly serious given the fact that it is being suggested that the unelected, unrepresentative House of Lords will be permitted a vote yet the devolved regions will not.

“I welcome the part of the judgement which ensures that a vote in Westminster will be required to give consent on the triggering of Article 50.  We will submit our own amendments and support any other amendments which protect our interests. We will vote against any Bill which triggers Article 50. I would strongly urge all pro-Remain MPs to join us in this action.  

“Last week Theresa May set out her vision for a Tory hard Brexit which, if left unchallenged, will mean a hard border in Ireland.

“Everyone on this island has a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. It would prove devastating both politically and economically.  That includes the Sinn Fein MPs who do not take their seats at Westminster. If Sinn Fein are serious about new leadership they cannot shirk their responsibility to the people of Ireland and should therefore take their seats to vote against Article 50.”

Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed the ruling but said he was disappointed the devolved institutions will not be consulted on the Brexit process.

“It is welcome the Supreme Court has recognised the sovereignty of Parliament and that the EU referendum was only advisory,” said Mr Ford.

“This means the Government should now produce a much more detailed plan and their Bill may be subject to amendments before it can move through Parliament.

“However, the decision the three devolved assemblies do not need to be consulted does raise significant issues for the future of devolution across the UK, on a wide range of issues and not just membership of the EU. In the longer term, this is likely to create significant debate in all three.

“Brexit has such fundamental implications for the wider UK and specifically Northern Ireland, it would have been an affront to democracy to if the formal triggering of Article 50 was not subject to detailed scrutiny and accountability by Parliament.”

DUP MP  Nigel Dodds said: "The people of the UK made their decision in June, the British people have spoken and their Parliament will respect that. Today's verdict brings clarity on the matter.

"We expect the government to bring forward legislation which will deliver the Brexit the DUP campaigned for, and which will be in the national interest. It is vital to get this work in the Parliament right and we will ensure that it does. At Westminster the duty on politicians and the government alike is clear. Other European countries have had their will denied and overturned at Brussels, by being made to vote and vote again.

"The DUP campaigned for Brexit and we believe we are stronger outside the shackles of the European Union. We voted as a whole to leave the EU and that vote must be continually respected."

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