Thu | Mar 22, 2018

UK government loses Brexit case, must consult Parliament

Published:Tuesday | January 24, 2017 | 4:16 PM
Painter Kaya Mar shows his latest painting of British Prime Minister Theresa May in front of the Supreme Court in London, on Tuesday.

Britain's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Prime Minister Theresa May must get legislative approval to start the process of leaving the European Union, raising the possibility that lawmakers will delay her plans to trigger negotiations by the end of March.

The 8-3 decision forces the government to put a bill before Parliament, giving members of the House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords the chance to debate and potentially offer amendments that could soften the terms of Britain's exit from the EU, known as Brexit.

While the ruling won't scuttle Britain's departure, it once again highlights uncertainty about the timetable for negotiating the country's future relationship with the bloc of 500 million people, which is central to trade, immigration and security.

"Unfortunately for businesses and other institutions, Brexit still means uncertainty," said Phillip Souta, head of U.K. public policy at the international law firm Clifford Chance. "Parliament remains divided and the outcome of the negotiations remain unknown."

The lawsuit was considered the most important constitutional case in a generation because it centered on the question of who ultimately wields power in Britain's system of government: the prime minister and her Cabinet, or Parliament.

May had said she would use centuries-old powers known as royal prerogative to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty and launch two years of exit talks. The powers — traditionally held by the monarch – permit decisions about treaties and other specific issues to be made without a vote of Parliament.