Brexit Legal Battles Continue, But Parliament Supports Government’s Timeline

The United Kingdom’s efforts to leave the European Union, colloquially known as “Brexit,” continue their long march through legal proceedings this week. Meanwhile, though, Reuters reports that Parliament has voted on a motion to support Prime Minister Theresa May’s March 2017 timeline for Brexit, as well as a motion for the government to provide its Brexit plans to the legislators.

The vote was 448 to 75 in favor of the motions. The opposition was led by the Labour party, which was particularly focused on seeing the government’s plans for the U.K.’s economic future after Brexit. But Labour’s approval of May’s timeline was seen as implicit approval of the government’s Brexit plans as well.

The desire to hear the government’s Brexit plans followed from a High Court ruling last month. The Court ruled that May’s administration must get approval from the legislative branch before triggering Article 50, the section of the Treaty of Lisbon that provides the legal mechanisms for leaving the EU.

The government is appealing that High Court decision in order to determine which branch has the authority to negotiate Brexit. The Court ruled last month that the executive branch must consult with, and have its Brexit plans approved by Parliament. The BBC reported on the first day of proceedings, which began on December 5th.

After commenting on the public interest in Brexit, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said, “This appeal is concerned with legal issues, and, as judges, our duty is to consider those issues impartially, and to decide the case according to the law.”

Brexit protestors gather outside the Supreme Court as the final day of Brexit legal hearings begins
[Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

The government’s legal representative, James Eadie, then took the stage. His arguments rest on the idea that Brexit is a treaty, and as such, the power to negotiate Brexit lies with the executive branch, which is responsible for making or unmaking treaties. He also argues that Parliament could have chosen to restrict the power to act on Brexit, so its silence on the matter should be taken as tacit approval.

On day two, David Pannick, representing the opposition to Brexit, launched his counterarguments. The Guardian summarizes Pannick’s arguments, which are focused on the legal gray areas invoked by Brexit. For one thing, he said, the referendum is not legally binding. For another, the government needs to provide evidence that it either has the power to negotiate Brexit on its own or that Parliament has the power to stop them from negotiating Brexit.

David Pannick, representing Brexit challenger Gina Miller, arrives at the Supreme Court for Brexit hearings
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Pannick also challenged the government’s treaty powers, saying that that power extends only to domestic treaties. This would exclude Brexit, which had already demonstrated its international effects when the British pound plummeted to and stayed at an all-time low after the referendum in June.

Day three of the Brexit legal proceedings centered on the U.K.’s Scottish and Northern Irish constituencies. The Independent reports that representatives from Scotland and Northern Ireland both argued that their governments must give their approval before Brexit can be triggered. Their arguments rest on constitutional grounds, with the fate of both governments’ relationship with the U.K. at stake if Brexit is approved.

If the Supreme Court agrees, May’s timeline for Brexit might be delayed while both countries’ legislative assemblies vote on the issue. The Independent also reports that EU judges might be hearing court cases on Brexit for several more years.

If May’s timeline for Brexit is met, the country will have two years to reach an agreement with the other members of the EU, per Article 50.

[Featured Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]