The Cable

Only Parliament, Not Prime Minister, Can Begin Brexit, High Court Says

Theresa May may not get to begin Brexit after all.


Prime Minister Theresa May cannot hit the Brexit button.

That, at least, was Thursday’s ruling from Britain’s High Court. It said only Parliament, and not the prime minister, can trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the lever that needs to be pulled for negotiations to leave the European Union — that is, to put the “exit” in “Brexit.” May had argued that the referendum, which the “Leave” campaign narrowly won when a vote was put to the public back in June, meant that members of Parliament did not need to be consulted. May herself was against leaving the EU, but has said that she intends to respect popular will.

May’s government has already said it intends to appeal the decision.

The pound, however, was quite happy with the judgment. It surged .8 percent right after the ruling and again later in the day after, per the Wall Street Journal, “the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee announced a unanimous vote to leave interest rates and quantitative easing unchanged” for the duration of this month.

The European Commission has announced it will not comment on the decision “because there are certain things that may still happen in the U.K.” Those certain things likely include a different decision on an appeal and/or Parliament’s rejection of the Brexit vote entirely. (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is being told to do anything to stop Brexit by her country’s leading academic advisors.)

And if it does turn to Parliament? Will the MPs reject Brexit?

Perhaps: Some believe lawmakers would reject it by a margin of six to one. Or perhaps those who were in favor of “Remain” could draw out the process of triggering Article 50 until they are pleased with the terms of departure, a reality not likely to be achieved in the near future given that their ideal deal does not involve leaving the EU at all.

Perhaps the only person more offended by the decision than May’s government was U.K. Independence Party leader (and Leaver in Chief) Nigel Farage, who took a break from championing Donald Trump to tweet, “I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50. They have no idea level of public anger they will provoke.”

But then, “they” might be thinking of the 1.2 million Leave voters who said they wanted to change their vote.

Photo Credit: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

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