Thursday, May 19

Government determined to respect referendum result after Brexit Court defeat



International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the Government is “disappointed” at the High Court ruling that Theresa May cannot trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union without the prior approval of Parliament.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Fox said “the Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum”.

“The Government is disappointed by the court’s judgement,” he said.

“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Acts of Parliament. The Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.

“This judgment raises important and complex matters of law and it’s right that we consider it carefully before deciding how to proceed.”

He added: “I have nothing to add other than to reiterate that it’s right that the Government will consider carefully before deciding how to proceed following the judgment.”

In one of the most important constitutional cases in generations, three senior judges ruled that the Prime Minister cannot use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the UK’s exit from the EU without the prior authority of Parliament.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is lobbying to keep Britain in the European single market and against a so-called “hard Brexit”, described the result as “significant indeed”.

Interim Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he was worried that politicians were attempting to block or delay Brexit and warned that such a move would provoke huge public anger.

“I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand,” he said. “Last night at the Spectator Parliamentary Awards I had a distinct feeling that our political class, who were out in force, do not accept the 23rd of June referendum result.”

“I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron urged the Government to now set out its negotiating strategy to Parliament before triggering Article 50, which Mrs May has promised to do before the end of March.

The PM has insisted that she cannot reveal her hand before beginning negotiations.

But Mr Farron said: “It is disappointing that this Government was so intent on undermining parliamentary sovereignty and democratic process that they forced this decision to be made in the court, but I welcome the news today that MPs will get to vote on the triggering of Article 50.

“Given the strict two-year timetable of exiting the EU once Article 50 is triggered, it is critical that the Government now lay out their negotiating strategy to Parliament, before such a vote is held.

“So far May’s team have been all over the place when it comes to prioritising what is best for Britain, and it’s time they pull their socks up and start taking this seriously.

“Ultimately, the British people voted for a departure but not for a destination, which is why what really matters is allowing them to vote again on the final deal, giving them the chance to say no to an irresponsible hard Brexit that risks our economy and our jobs.”

Leave campaigner Dominic Raab described the decision as “disappointing”.

The Tory former minister said: “This case is a plain attempt to block Brexit by people who are out of touch with the country and refuse to accept the result.

“However, the vote to leave the EU was clear and they should not seek to obstruct it.

“Leaving the EU provides us with the opportunity to create a society which works for all. Instead of trying to row back on the referendum result, the country should be moving forward and working together to make a success of Brexit.”

A flurry of excitement swept through the House of Commons chamber as news of the court’s judgment spread.

Former health minister Ben Bradshaw briefly put his hands up in the air with glee as he heard the result, while Labour MP Kevin Brennan demanded to know if the Government will “respect the ruling of the court”.

But pro-Brexit MPs were quick to denounce the decision, with Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) urging ministers to “deplore” it, as he does.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said the ruling meant Mrs May and her Cabinet would not have “total control” over Britain’s future.

“We welcome this ruling, which shows that ministers do not have the power to trigger Article 50 without consulting Parliament,” she said.

“Parliament must have the opportunity to debate and vote on triggering Article 50, rather than a group of ministers at the top table having total control over this country’s future place in the world.

“The Green Party will continue to fight to protect free movement, workers’ rights and the vital environmental protections we currently have as part of the EU.”

Labour MP and constitutional expert Graham Allen said the Supreme Court now faces “its first historic test” in hearing the Government’s appeal against the ruling.

He said: “It is the beginning of defining more clearly and honestly a separation of powers in the UK, which has hitherto been shrouded in mystery.

“Parliament can no longer be the poodle of Government of any political complexion.

“On fundamental matters of our democracy, Parliament must not only be consulted but, as on Article 50, legislate.

“This is not to overturn the decision in principle by the British people but to give it full life.

“I welcome the decision of the High Court and now hope the Supreme Court upholds the sovereignty of Parliament which was such a core part of the reason to leave the EU.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord (Menzies) Campbell of Pittenweem said the ruling was a “slap in the face” for Mrs May.

“This is a clear illustration of the well-known legal principle that no matter how high you are, the law is above you,” he said.

“It is a slap in the face for the Government. It shows the dangers of playing ducks and drakes with the constitution and particularly the sovereignty of Parliament.”

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan said she hoped the chances of the Government hitting Mrs May’s Article 50 deadline were “quite strong”.

She told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “The triggering of Article 50 is a big first step but I think people will want progress made on that.

“I think it’s important the Government shows there is progress and I see no reason why, actually, unless we end up with some lengthy legal proceedings tying things up, the Government doesn’t take charge of this and say we are going to have a piece of very simple legislation.

“Members of Parliament will be mindful of how their constituents voted on 23 June.”

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner asked Dr Fox in the Commons: “Will you acknowledge that the vast majority of members in this House are now committed to honouring the decision to leave the EU but that democracy demands that the terms of our leaving must be subject to the proper advanced scrutiny and consent of this democratically elected House and not negotiated in secret and smuggled through without the support of this sovereign Parliament?”

Mr Bradshaw urged the Government to delay the planned triggering of Article 50 in the wake of the ruling.

He said: “Eighty percent of the fish caught around our coastline in the South West goes straight for export to the rest of the European Union and there is huge concern in the industry about the impact of tariffs if we leave the single market.

“Given the excellent news from the High Court and those concerns, wouldn’t the Government be wise not to invoke Article 50 as early as March?”

Meanwhile, Tory former minister Anna Soubry urged Dr Fox to examine the details of the ruling.

She said: “I think you said the Government will be appealing. Could I ask you on behalf of the Government please to look at their learned judges’ ruling and understand that it’s not about a re-run of the arguments about the EU referendum, it’s all about Parliament’s sovereignty.

“In that event will the Government look at it carefully to decide whether or not in fact the learned judges are right and it’s this place that should and indeed will trigger Article 50?”

Dr Fox replied to Mrs Soubry: “As this is now an ongoing court case I’ve nothing further to add to the comments I made earlier.”

Ukip leadership hopeful Suzanne Evans condemned the “activist judges” and suggested they should be sacked.

“How dare these activist judges attempt to overturn our will? It’s a power grab & undermines democracy,” she wrote on Twitter. “Time we had the right to sack them.”

She added: “Predictably, the same people now quoting ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ are the very same people who were happy to give it away for last 40yrs.”

Commons leader David Lidington told MPs: “I can confirm to the House that it is the Government’s intention to appeal against today’s judgment from the High Court.

“We are, as the House is aware, in a situation where we have this judgment today and a very little while ago a judgment from the High Court of Northern Ireland which came to a completely different decision on the same subject.

“So we now have the High Courts in two different parts of the United Kingdom coming to opposite conclusions on the same constitutional and legal question. So this will need to go to a higher court.”

He said the Government will give a statement to the Commons on Monday about the ruling and the appeal.

Ukip donor Arron Banks, co-chairman of the Leave.EU campaign, said unelected judges had declared war on British democracy.

He said: “Parliament voted six-to-one in favour of letting the people decide. They didn’t get the answer they wanted, and now they’re going to use every dirty trick in the book to try to sabotage, delay or water down Brexit.

“It’s no surprise that the legal establishment has joined the political class in declaring war on British democracy. Why wouldn’t unelected judges want to preserve an EU system where unelected elites like themselves are all-powerful?

“Tony Blair let the cat out of the bag last week: the Remain campaign hasn’t gone away; they don’t have any respect for the 17.4 million and they will do everything in their power to reverse the public’s historic victory over the Establishment.

“Well, I don’t think the people are going to take this lying down. Leave.EU will now be going back into full campaigning mode, and I would urge anyone who believes in democracy to sign up and join the fight.”

Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was a mistake for the Government to appeal against the ruling – and repeated his view that the devolved administrations should also get a vote on Mrs May’s Brexit negotiating position.

“The High Court ruling is extremely clear – the UK Government cannot trigger Article 50 using the Crown prerogative,” he said.

“Indeed, this is consistent with many of the arguments made by the Leave campaign themselves about Parliamentary sovereignty. It is a mistake, in my view, to challenge such a clear ruling and we should now try and move ahead to develop a fuller understanding of the UK Government’s position.

“The position of the Welsh Government has been consistent throughout – we accept the decision made by the people and will not work against the referendum result. We are working hard to get the best possible exit terms for Wales.

“However, it is important that votes take place in all four nations to endorse the UK negotiating position.”