The day after politicians from the UK’s leading parties met to debate Brexit live on Channel 4, a ruling from the highest court in Europe says the UK still has the chance to halt the process.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the UK does not need the permission of the 27 other member states in order to revoke Article 50, which when triggered on 29 March 2017 began the long process of the UK’s exit from the EU.
The European Commission stated at the time that it was impossible to revoke Article 50 once triggered, saying: ‘It is up to the United Kingdom to trigger Article 50. But once triggered, it cannot be unilaterally reversed. Notification is a point of no return. Article 50 does not provide for the unilateral withdrawal of notification.’
However, the ECJ’s ruling, announced today (10 December), goes against that initial statement, with the court confirming: “The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU.” The ruling means that MPs could potentially vote to revoke Article 50 very soon – although a Commons vote on May’s Brexit deal planned for Tuesday has been postponed, possibly until early next year. The final deadline for the vote is 21 January.
The case was brought to the ECJ by a group of Scottish politicians – Green MSPs Ross Greer and Andy Wightman, Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, SNP MEP Alyn Smith and SNP MP Joanna Cherry – in partnership with the Good Law Project, an organisation that previously carried out a review into illegal campaign spending during the referendum.
Ross Greer described the ruling as “a huge victory for the UK, achieved despite the Conservative government's attempts to prevent it and limit their own options.” He continued: “We now have legal certainty that the UK is free to change its mind and stop the process of leaving the EU. We can stay in and enjoy not just the significant benefits of membership but the unique benefits of the UK's advantageous membership and all of the opt-outs which come with it.
"That is a choice for us alone to make and does not require the approval of any other EU state and it is a choice the people should be free to make via a referendum. It is clear that we don't have to choose between becoming poorer with May's deal or much poorer very quickly with no deal – there is another way. It’s time to let the public take back control of the Brexit process."
The ruling, along with the Prime Minister’s choice to delay the Commons vote, has provided a boost to campaigners for a People’s Vote, with Conservative MP Anna Soubry stating: “This is now officially a failed Brexit process. The Prime Minister has abandoned the most important vote in the House of Commons for a generation because she knows she cannot secure a Parliamentary majority for her proposed Brexit deal.
“The strange thing is that anyone still believes a better deal can be achieved when the last two years should have taught us there is no model of Brexit that can fulfil all the promises made in the last referendum or satisfy the expectations created. Any deal will be worse than the deal we’ve already got in Europe.”
Molly Scott Cato MEP, the Green Party’s spokesperson on Brexit, commented: “The ECJ ruling has lit up the path out of the Brexit calamity. MPs should vote down the withdrawal agreement [and] support a People's Vote. If the country support[s] continuing EU membership the court has told us we can revoke Article 50 and keep our existing terms. The threat to this strategy comes from Labour whose posturing around mythical renegotiation and a general election would waste the time we need to organise the referendum."
On Sunday night (9 December) four politicians debated Brexit live on Channel 4, with Green MP Caroline Lucas representing the People’s Vote position, Labour MP Barry Gardiner putting forward Labour’s position, Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly backing the Theresa May’s deal and Jacob Rees-Mogg presenting a Conservative view against May’s deal.
While Gardiner was advocating for a general election in the case of the government losing Tuesday’s now-postponed vote on May’s Brexit deal, Cleverly said that to reject the deal would mean “damaging uncertainty” for the country.
Lucas was the only one to call openly for a second referendum, saying in her opening address: “This decision can’t be left to the politicians – we simply don’t agree. I’m sure many of you at home are screaming at the television in despair, and that’s why I want you to have your say. We, all of us, know so much more now that we did two years ago, and a People’s Vote would be your first chance to vote on the facts.
“We’re going to have to live with the consequences of this decision for decades to come, and it will affect young people most of all. So let’s just be sure. Let’s vote on this together as country – don’t leave it to the Westminster elite to decide for you.”