Supreme Court: We have a verdict, now time for an Act
This morning the Supreme Court gave its verdict, ruling 8 to 3 against the UK government. This means that Theresa May’s government cannot invoke Article 50 without an Act of Parliament.
Amendments already being drawn up
The Brexit secretary David Davis will make a statement in Parliament at 12.30pm today. We might then have a better idea about what to expect on the bill that MPs will vote on.
In the meantime, the Lib Dems have already said that they will vote against Article 50 if there isn’t another referendum on the terms of the deal (or no deal as may be the case). Speaking on behalf of the SNP, Alex Salmond has said that his party will table 50 amendments to an Article 50 bill. The Guardian reports that this will include a demand for an agreement from all three devolved governments. Of course, we know now that the government is not legally obliged to do this.
Labour has also said that it will table amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said that it would amend the Article 50 bill to “prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven.”
Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven.
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) 24 January 2017
However, he also said that Labour “will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.”
This makes it difficult to see that there is much hope for substantial opposition to the triggering of Article 50 regardless of what the bill includes (or doesn’t include) unless more Labour MPs decide to rebel against the party line.
So whilst we now know that there will be an Act of Parliament, it is now also time for MPs to act. And that should include going against their party line if they don’t believe in the direction that Theresa May is taking us in.
Disappointment for the devolved governments
For the devolved governments, there is disappointment with a unanimous judgement that the government is not legally obliged to consult with them before invoking Article 50. Nicola Sturgeon has already said that she will be giving the Scottish Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50. It may only be symbolic but it’s increasingly looking like Theresa May’s comments that all four nations are equal partners was only ever symbolic. A vote in the Scottish parliament will also bolster support for a second independence referendum.
Both decisions made by the Supreme Court hold huge significance for the UK’s constitution. And the second decision over the devolved governments means that arguments regarding the UK constitution are likely to continue.
In a statement responding to the ruling, Nicola Sturgeon said that “the Sewel Convention and the importance of embedding it in statute were not worth the paper they were written on.” It’s hard to disagree.
— The SNP (@theSNP) 24 January 2017
Wales voted to Leave. And in its detailed Brexit plan, the Welsh government accepts that the UK should leave the EU. However, it also makes the case for the UK having continued participation in the single market too. Although the Welsh government has welcomed the ruling including the statements made regarding devolved governments, they don’t have much leverage for their plan.
As for Northern Ireland, there isn’t currently a government in place but when there is one (an election is due in early March), there is no doubt that they will also be disappointed not to have been given more leverage in the decision to trigger Article 50.