Theresa May’s plans for triggering Brexit were plunged into chaos today by a sensational High Court judgment that she cannot bypass Parliament.
In a decision that forced Ms May to insist she would not call an early election, three judges ruled the Prime Minister does not have the right to use the Royal Prerogative to invoke the Article 50 notice to leave the EU without involving MPs and peers.
The extraordinary development throws into confusion whether Ms May can stick to her timetable to trigger Article 50 by the end of March – and leave the EU by spring 2019.
On a turbulent day for Theresa May that was branded by many, including leaders in Europe as "humiliating", Downing Street had to dismiss talk of an early general election.
In other developments over the course of a remarkable day:
Theresa May told European leaders that the setback will not derail her plan to begin Brexit talks by the end of March 2017
- The Government admitted that an Act of Parliament is likely to be needed to trigger Article 50
- It was confirmed the Government would take the ruling to the Supreme Court
- Bookies slashed the odds on Brexit not happening
- The decision led to a sharp spike in both the pound and the FTSE 250
- European leaders responded by calling it a 'humiliation' for the PM
- A poll showed the majority of voters would now vote for Remain
- Nigel Farage warned of revolution if Parliament tried to block Brexit
If the judgment leads to the Government being forced to push a Bill through Parliament – with numerous chances for it to be amended - there is thought to be virtually no chance of that timetable being achieved.
The Government immediately confirmed it would challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court – probably on December 7 – with speculation the case could end up at the European Court of Justice.
Later, Downing Street moved to dismiss talk of an early general election. With just a narrow majority in the House of Commons and most MPs having backed Remain the ruling by the court presents a new hurdle to the PM – who would be far from certain to get Article 50 through.
However, asked about the possibility of an early election to shore up the Conservatives’ majority, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said: “No. Our position has been clear that there shouldn’t be an election until 2020 – and that remains the Prime Minister’s view.”
Current polls suggest Ms May would be returned to office with a significantly increased majority as Labour flounders on some of its lowest poll ratings in recent history.
On a remarkable morning, the pound immediately surged on the news, as the markets judged it would make it more difficult – at the very least – for Ms May to pursue a so-called ‘hard Brexit.
And Ladbrokes slashed the odds on a snap general election next year to 2-1, amid a belief that the Prime Minister will turn to the voters if she runs into an impasse at Parliament.
Given the huge Conservative lead in the polls, that could hand Ms May a much bigger Commons majority than the slender 12 which she inherited from David Cameron - and greater freedom to deliver Brexit.
In a devastating judgment for the Government, the Lord Chief Justice said its arguments had been contrary to “fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament”.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
The ruling said: “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the text of the 1972 Act [to join the EU] to support it."
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, hailed the decision as “the chance to say no to an irresponsible hard Brexit that risks our economy and our jobs”.
He said: “It is critical that the government now lay out their negotiating to Parliament, before such a vote is held. So far, May’s team have been all over the place.”
But a furious Nigel Farage said: “I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand. Our political class, who were out in force, do not accept the 23rd of June Referendum result.
“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.”
And prominent Conservative Leaver Dominic Raab said: “This case is a plain attempt to block Brexit by people who are out of touch with the country and refuse to respect the result.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party “respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union”.
But he added: “This ruling underlines the need for the Government to bring its negotiating terms to parliament without delay.”
A delighted Nicky Morgan, a Conservative MP who has demanded that MPs vote on Article 50, said: “Democracy has been asserted.”
But she added: “We are very well aware of how people voted – 17 million to leave the European Union in June – and I expect that Parliament will trigger the approval of the Article 50 notice.”
It is thought unlikely that MPs will seek to block Brexit, because – although a majority were pro-Remain – most, especially nervous Labour MPs, now accept the verdict of voters in June.
However, MPs - and peers in the House of Lords – could be handed the opportunity to challenge, or even delay, the process, if they are not satisfied with the Government’s strategy.
The ruling is a huge blow to Ms May, who tore into MPs wanting to influence Brexit at the Conservative conference, claiming they “are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it”.
She said: “They’re not trying to get Brexit right, they’re trying to kill it by delaying it. They are insulting the intelligence of the British people.”
The challenge was brought by Gina Miller, a London businesswoman, arguing the inevitable consequence of invoking Article 50 was the loss of statutory rights enjoyed by UK and EU citizens.
They included the right to refer a legal case to the European Court of Justice, of freedom of movement and to sell services – rights which should only be taken away by Parliament.
The Attorney General argued, unsuccessfully, that the court challenge was an attempt to “invalidate” the public’s decision, in the June referendum, to leave the EU.
In a brief statement, a Government spokesman said: “The Government is disappointed by the Court’s judgment.
“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. And the Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum. We will appeal this judgment.”
Ms Miller herself said: “This result today is about all of us - our United Kingdom and our futures.
“It is not about how any of us voted – each of us voted to do what we believed was the right thing for our country. This case is about process, not politics.
“However you voted on June 23, we all owe it to our country to uphold the highest standards of transparency and democratic accountability that we are admired and respected for around the world.”