UK can cancel Brexit decision, top EU court rules
The UK can unilaterally reverse its decision to leave the European Union, the bloc's top court has ruled.
In a major judgment that will be seen as a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners, the European Court of Justice said that EU member states were “free to revoke unilaterally” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which kicks off the two-year process of leaving.
The ruling follows a case brought by a cross-party coalition of Scottish politicians and Remain-supporting campaigners, including the SNP’s Joanna Cherry and Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler.
The court said: “In today’s judgment, the Full Court has ruled that, when a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.”
It added: “That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force or, if not such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired.”
The ECJ said revoking Article 50 could only be done “following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements” - effectively signalling that MPs can stop the Brexit process they voted to trigger in 2016.
“This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European Council,” it added.
The ruling - which comes just a day before MPs vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU - was quickly pounced on by politicians pushing for Britain to stay in the bloc.
The SNP's Joanna Cherry said: "I’m delighted that we now know definitively that there is an option to stay in the EU. The UK government has ignored Scotland’s vote to remain and all compromises suggested by the Scottish Government.
"They also fought us every inch of the way in this case, so it’s a particularly sweet irony that Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts have provided this lifeline to the UK parliament at this moment of crisis."
Ms Stihler, the Labour MEP for Scotland, said: "This historic ruling paves the way for the disastrous Brexit process to be brought to a halt. We now know, beyond any doubt, that Westminster can revoke its withdrawal from the European Union.
"This has been a lengthy and expensive legal process, but the result proves that it was worthwhile. When MPs vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, they now know they can ultimately choose to stop Brexit and keep the best deal we currently have as a full member of the EU."
The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: "The ECJ has made clear that the UK can stop Brexit unilaterally.
“The Government can therefore prevent a chaotic no-deal. For the sake of people's livelihoods, the Prime Minister must end the uncertainty and rule out a no-deal.”
GOVE: RULING DOESN'T ALTER REFERENDUM OUTCOME
But leading Cabinet Brexiteer Michael Gove said the ruling would not "alter the outcome" of Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
The Environment Secretary told Radio 4's Today programme: "We voted very clearly - 17.4 million people sent a very clear message that we want to leave the European Union, and that also means leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
"So this case is all very well but it doesn’t alter the outcome of the vote or the clear intention of the Government that we leave on March 29th.
"And the most effective way of leaving is to support the deal the Prime Minister has."