A U.K. court ruled Thursday that the government can’t kick off the process of leaving the European Union without a vote from Parliament, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy for taking the country out of the bloc.
The government said it would appeal to the Supreme Court. If the verdict is upheld, that would mean lawmakers, a majority of whom voted to stay, would have more influence over how Brexit is carried out and could theoretically delay or even stop the process.
The case—brought by a group of British citizens with the help of some of the U.K.’s top constitutional lawyers—is a major complication for Mrs. May, who has said she plans to invoke Article 50, which open the two-year window for talks, by the end of March. Her spokeswoman said the government planned to stick to that timetable.
The government has called the case an attempt to overturn the will of the British people, who chose in June to break away from the EU.
“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by act of Parliament,” a U.K. government spokesman said. “And the government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.”
The Supreme Court is on standby to give an expedited hearing before a full bench of 11 judges early next month.
Mrs. May has telegraphed a hard line on the terms she would seek in talks, suggesting she would prioritize the right to curb immigration over access to the EU’s tariff-free single market—unsettling some investors and others who fear that would hit the U.K. economy.
The pound rose 0.8% immediately after the ruling was announced, climbing to $1.245, up by over 1% against the dollar on the day. The currency later extended its gains after the Bank of England played down the chances of a further cut in interest rates, saying it expects the U.K. decision to leave the EU to weigh less heavily on the economy next year than thought.
Some political experts have suggested that if the plaintiffs win, pro-EU lawmakers will have an opportunity to steer the country toward a “softer” exit, with more ties to the bloc and a more open immigration policy.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said his party respects the referendum results and wouldn’t stop Brexit, but called for more openness from the government on its exact approach to talks.
“This ruling underlines the need for the government to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay,” Mr. Corbyn said in a statement.
Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, said a vote on invoking Article 50 would likely be tight. Even though a majority of members of Parliament voted against Britain’s exit, many will be hesitant to overturn what the majority of the public voted for.
“A lot of MPs would regard it as a risky thing for Parliament to set itself up against the people,” he said.
The case, which combines at least seven private actions brought by individuals who supported Britain’s continued EU membership, underscores the complexities involved in the U.K.’s decision to leave the 28-member union, as it becomes the first member of the modern EU to do so.
The government says it has the right to leave because of the so-called royal prerogative, in which executive authority is given to ministers so they can govern on the monarch’s behalf.
Source: The Wall Street Journal