LONDON – A British court ruled Thursday that the government could not begin the process of withdrawing from the European Union without first receiving lawmakers’ approval, a blow to those backing “Brexit.”
Prime Minister Theresa May (pictured) has said that she will formally trigger the process of withdrawal next March, which would then give the U.K. two years to negotiate the terms of its divorce from the E.U. Britons voted 52% to 48% in June to pull their country out of the 28-nation trading bloc.
But Brexit opponents filed a lawsuit contending that May could not constitutionally take that step – known as invoking Article 50 of the E.U.’s Lisbon Treaty – without first securing the approval of Britain’s Parliament. On Thursday, the British High Court came down in favor of that argument in a tensely awaited ruling.
May’s government immediately said that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court at a hearing expected to be held next month. Officials will make a fuller statement on the issue next week.
“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by act of parliament. The government is determined to respect the result of the referendum,” Liam Fox, Britain’s trade secretary and an ardent supporter of Brexit, told the House of Commons. “This judgment raises important and complex matters of law, and it’s right that we consider it carefully before deciding how to proceed.”
Even if the Supreme Court upholds the High Court’s ruling, that does not mean Brexit will not happen. Although a majority of lawmakers in Parliament favor staying in the European Union, many will be leery of blocking the government from triggering Article 50 and being seen as thwarting the will of the people.
Still, the court decision marked a victory for those who hope that somehow Britain will put off its exit from the E.U.
“This is not about undermining the result of the 23rd of June….This is about saying that the sovereign Parliament in this country has its say on something of fundamental constitutional importance like leaving the E.U.,” Nicky Morgan, a lawmaker from May’s own Conservative Party and a “Remain” supporter, told Sky News.
Nigel Farage, a prominent “Leave” campaigner who has appeared at rallies in the U.S. in support of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, warned of a backlash if Brexit did not proceed as planned.
“I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand,” Farage said. “I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”
The vast majority of people who work in Britain’s vibrant entertainment industry were in favor of remaining in the E.U.
The ruling sparked a small rally for the beleaguered British pound. But at noon Thursday in London, the currency was still down 14% from its rate against the U.S. dollar in May.