Last Thursday, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales dropped a bomb when it ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May has no authority to trigger Article 50—the provision that would begin the formal negotiations with the EU over Brexit—without prior parliamentary consent. Soon after, May’s government confirmed that it would appeal the decision. Nevertheless, some Brexiteers began fretting that the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU could be derailed, since many parliamentarians oppose Brexit.
But the true significance of the shocking decision is that it clips the government’s wings by determining rules of the process that May and her ministers will have to follow as they attempt to implement the results of the June Brexit vote. In doing so, the court has not fundamentally changed the likelihood of EU exit, but it has upped the chances that Article 50 will not be triggered until after the March deadline that the prime minister had previously set. It has also raised the possibility of a snap general election in the first half of 2017, some three years before the next scheduled ballot.
THE BREXIT BALANCING ACT
May’s government had previously seemed intent on steamrolling Article 50 (and any eventual Brexit deal with the EU) in a way that could further polarize the nation. If anything, the high court ruling is a welcome reminder that May should try to seek a national consensus around the terms of the United Kingdom’s separation from Europe. With the electorate still divided over the referendum decision, it is unfortunate that the government did not come to this conclusion itself.
It is very likely that the United Kingdom’s exit strategy will benefit from greater parliamentary involvement. Increased oversight is not about blocking the EU exit process, as the opposition Labour Party confirmed on November 6; rather, the parliament will help address the stark reality that no mandate for any specific form of exit (hard or soft, orderly or disorderly) resulted from June’s 52-48
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