European media has labelled Theresa May’s shock defeat in the High Court a “strong humiliation” after it was ruled she would not be able to trigger Article 50 without a Parliamentary vote.
The Prime Minister’s plans to launch formal Brexit proceedings by the end of March 2017 were derailed on Thursday in a sensational decision, which many on the continent suggested could dramatically change the course of Brexit.
Three judges ruled Ms May did not have the right to use the Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the EU without involving MPs and peers.
“As the British press are highlighting, not only is this a strong humiliation for Theresa May’s Government but it will also undoubtedly impact on the timings of Brexit, slowing down the process,” wrote Italy’s La Stampa.
Spain’s El Pais called the judgement “a major setback” which threatened to “undermine” Ms May’s authority in future Brexit negotiations.
“The court ruling is a major setback to the Prime Minister as it means she was wrong on an issue of transcendental importance, which undermines her authority in managing negotiations with Europe’s other member states,” wrote Pablo Guimon, El Pais’ UK correspondent.
“The decision, if it becomes permanent, could hinder or slow Brexit by submitting the process to full parliamentary scrutiny. What could happen is the process could be driven in a more limited direction, the option that is known as 'Soft' Brexit, that prioritises access to the single market, renouncing stricter border controls. However, the priorities of May’s government, judging by what we have seen so far, seem to be precisely the opposite.”
In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung also speculated the ruling could have a dramatic impact on the timings of Brexit.
“If the plaintiffs ultimately win, the timetable could be delayed because of the Parliamentary procedure. Moreover, it is unclear whether May would get a majority in Parliament to trigger the vote - most of the MPs voted against Brexit,” the newspaper said.
However, French newspaper Les Echos was cautious to speculate as to how the ruling could impact the trajectory of the Brexit “vessel”.
“A few hours ago, the foreign secretary Boris Johnson said 'Brexit means Brexit' and the Government would make a 'Titanic success of it',” it wrote.
“This Thursday, the Government collided with an iceberg called the High Court. But will this be enough to sink the Brexit vessel? Or just pitch it slightly?”
However, in an op-ed piece for France's Le Monde, former British diplomat John Pedler said it was not too late for Britain to stay in the EU.
“It’s incredible to observe the British media, along with the European and global press, working on the assumption that Brexit is inevitable. No one is indulging the theory that we could in fact escape it,” he wrote.
“Did the people really 'speak' when only 37 per cent of the electorate voted to leave [the EU]? The 23 June referendum no longer represents the 'will of the people'.”
In a separate article, Le Monde claimed Ms May’s opposition to the vote was out of fear of making “concessions” to her Brexit plan.
“If the Prime Minister accepted MPs right to debate the question, then she opposes tooth and nail a vote on the issue for fear it might force the Government into making concessions,” it said.
The Government confirmed immediately after the ruling that it would make an appeal to the Supreme Court, likely to be held on December 7.
If the case is challenged further after the Supreme Court gives its ruling, it could end up at the European Court of Justice.
The pound also rallied following the decision, with the markets judging that Ms May’s plans for a “Hard” Brexit had been derailed for the time-being.
* This article originally interpreted John Pedler in Le Monde as having written that only 37 per cent of the electorate came out to vote for the EU referendum. In fact, he wrote that only 37 per cent of the electorate voted to leave the EU.
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