Mayday: UK Supreme Court orders Government to seek Parliamentary approval for Brexit

On 26 January 2017, two days after the ruling of the UK Supreme Court which requires the British Government to seek parliamentary approval for Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May introduced a 132-worded bill to UK lawmakers. 

Although the UK Government must now seek parliamentary approval to trigger the UK’s departure from the EU – in particular triggering the formal procedure as codified in Article 50 Treaty of the European Union, in reality the UK Supreme Court’s ruling will not stop the UK from leaving the EU. It may delay the UK’s departure, but the question is whether it will delay Theresa May’s self-imposed deadline at the end of March 2017 to trigger Article 50. 

An important blow to opponents to Brexit is the fact that the UK Supreme  Court refused to allow the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies a say in Brexit. This is especially painful to Scotland, whose inhabitants voted to say in the EU. 

The Tower of London on Sunday 15 January 2017. Brexit supporters have argued that leaving the European Union will provide new trading opportunities. Credit Peter Nicholls/Reuters 

Another interesting development is whether the UK parliament will be able to influence the ultimate relationship between the EU and the UK. In her speech, Theresa May indicated that she wishes a clean break from the EU, so-called “hard exit.” 

This term, including soft-exit, has increasingly been used as debate focused on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. There is no strict definition of either, but they are used to refer to the closeness of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit.

So at one extreme, “hard” Brexit could involve the UK refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of people in order to maintain access to the EU single market. At the other end of the scale, a “soft” Brexit might follow a similar path to Norway, which is a member of the single market and has to accept the free movement of people as a result.

However, its likely that the UK is heading for a hard-exit. In her speech, Theresa May confirmed that the UK is determined to regain control of migration from the EU and rejected the supremacy of the European Court of Justice. These points of view are anathema to the EU, which has made the free movement of people — as well as goods, capital and services — a bedrock principle and which relies on the court to arbitrate. 

Whether this is sustainable, remains to be seen. Economically speaking, the decision to leave the EU has not yet had an adverse effect on Britain’s economy. Theresa May wishes negotiate a series of mutually beneficial trade agreements with UK’s trading partners – especially agreements with low tariffs. If the EU plays hard-ball, one big question is what effect a hard-exit will have on the EU – will the EU partners have access to the lucrative London financial center in a post Brexit world? Politically speaking, it remains to be seen whether the EU itself will reform itself to adapt the free movement of people, goods and capital/services to the twenty-first century. 

At least for now, the UK parliament will have a chance to debate these issues. 

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