Brexit: Government admits UK could attempt to unilaterally revoke Article 50 if MPs want to

Until now the government has refused to discuss its view of the legality of revocation, saying only that it would not try to pull back from Brexit

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 26 November 2018 16:25
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Cabinet ministers arrive at Downing Street to discuss Brexit deal

The UK can move to stop Brexit by attempting to unilaterally revoke Article 50, legal papers published by the government suggest.

The documents indicate that MPs would first need to direct the government to revoke the Article, which started the countdown to Britain’s withdrawal when it was triggered almost two years ago.

Until now the government has refused to discuss its view of the legality of revocation, but the newly released papers suggest it is a lack of political will rather than any legal barrier that is preventing a bid.

It comes as Theresa May once again defended her Brexit deal in the Commons, with MPs from all parties saying they are preparing to vote it down.

The legal papers released today form part of the government’s argument in a case that is to be heard by the Europe Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday, with judges possibly coming to a verdict over whether Britain can unilaterally reverse its decision to leave the EU.

The government’s lawyers argued that the ECJ should not at this point be tasked to make such a ruling, but in doing so apparently revealed that it would be possible for the UK to attempt to revoke Article 50.

The papers said: “For the issue of revocability of [Article 50] to become live, parliament must first have directed the government, against the government’s settled policy and against the popular answer provided by the referendum, unilaterally to revoke the notice.

“Second, either an EU member state or the EU Parliament must then object to the United Kingdom’s attempt unilaterally to revoke. Third, all attempts at finding a consensus for revocation must fail, so that the effect of revoking the notice becomes a live issue.

Brexit: Article 50 author says Theresa May is misleading the public on reversing result

“If that stage were reached, any such live issue and dispute would be at the inter-state or EU institutional level. At that time is would fall to be adjudicated by the [ECJ] in a direct action.”

Asked how significant the wording is, the prime minister’s official spokesman said only that the document “speaks for itself” on Monday.

The ECJ is being asked by campaigners to interpret whether Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the mechanism by which Britain notified the European Union of its intention to leave – can be revoked legally.

Britain is due to exit the world’s biggest trading bloc on March 29 next year but it remains unclear whether Ms May’s draft withdrawal deal agreed with the EU on Sunday will be passed by MPs in parliament.

New Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay accepted that Ms May faces a “challenging vote” when her withdrawal deal is put before MPs in December.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Barclay said: ”The prime minister, after two years working day and night in the national interest, has secured a deal that respects the referendum result, and does so in a way that also protects jobs, that also gives security to EU citizens.”

He added that people needed to know the dilemma now facing Britain, saying: “The choice is between a deal, or the uncertainty...the choppy waters that we will move in to if this deal does not go through.”

Speaking on the same programme, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said there will be no more negotiation on the Brexit agreement, insisting: “This is the best deal for Britain.”

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