Only Parliament can pull Brexit trigger

In one of the most significant legal rulings of modern times, the UK Supreme Court has handed down its judgment on the legal aspects of Brexit, upholding an earlier decision of the English High Court, and dealing with aspects raised in the Northern Ireland High Court case which preceded it.  In summary, the Supreme Court justices ruled that:

  • The Government cannot start the formal process of leaving the EU – by issuing notice under Article 50 – without the approval of Parliament
  •  That approval must be in the form of a proper Act of Parliament, passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and given Royal assent
  • The Government must do this because serving notice under Article 50 will have a direct and irreversible impact on domestic law, and only Parliament can change the law
  • The Government has no legal obligation to consult with or seek the consent of the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, although there is a constitutional convention which say it should
  • The constitutional arrangements within the UK, especially in respect of Northern Ireland, relate to internal matters only and do not change the fact that EU-UK relations, which are with the remit of foreign affairs, are exclusively within the control of the UK Government

Amongst the tsunami of legal and political commentary it has generated, Desmond Carr, a director in our litigation team, attempts to distil the practical ramifications of the decision, and he takes a look at the issues from a Northern Ireland perspective.

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While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.