Brexit disagreements brew outside the High Court in London. Photo Credit Simon Dawson, Bloomberg
Three High Court judges have been accused of frustrating the will of more than 17 million British people after they ruled that Brexit cannot be triggered without a Parliamentary vote.
Europhile MPs immediately put into action a plot to use the ruling to either overturn the Brexit vote or force Theresa May to water down dramatically her plans for Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The Prime Minister pledged to face down any attempt to thwart Brexit, suggesting that she intended to dare MPs who support Remain to vote against her in Parliament, in a move which would provoke a constitutional crisis.
Senior backbenchers and peers suggested that she could now be forced to call an early general election if she wants to proceed with her plans.
The country voted Leave in the June referendum with 17.4 million people backing Brexit, the biggest mandate in British political history. However, Parliament has a significant majority of Remain supporters, with about 480 of 650 MPs believed to have backed the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
The Government immediately said it would appeal to the Supreme Court after the judges declared that Mrs May does not have the power to bypass MPs by relying on the Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 and begin the two-year period of separation negotiations with Brussels.
However, a member of Mrs May’s Government told The Telegraph that ministers are resigned to losing the case.
They are now preparing an Act of Parliament, meaning that both the Commons and the Lords will be able to debate, amend and vote on Article 50 before it is triggered, potentially delaying the process for months.
Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said the ruling is an example of the “uncertainty” that could affect the economy during Brexit.
Mrs May will speak to European leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker and tell them the court ruling has not disrupted her “resolve” to take Britain out of the EU or altered her timetable.
Government sources have told The Telegraph that the need for an Act of Parliament will delay Brexit by as much as a year, meaning Britain will not now leave the bloc in 2019.
There was growing anger over the court’s involvement in the case, with Iain Duncan Smith, a former Cabinet member, accusing the judges – Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales – of risking a “constitutional crisis” by “pitting Parliament against the will of the people”.
Lord Justice Sales is a close friend of Tony Blair, the former prime minister who campaigned for Remain and wants a second vote on Britain’s EU membership. Lord Thomas co-founded a Europhile legal group.
Eurosceptics also pointed out that the leaflet sent to every British household ahead of the referendum said that the Government – and not Parliament – would implement the result of the vote and that the decision was “yours”.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “You now have the High Court telling Government and Parliament how to go about their business. This is unprecedented.”
Dominic Raab, a former justice minister, said: “On June 23 the British people gave a clear mandate for the UK Government to leave the EU and take back control of our borders, laws, money and trade. It is disappointing that today the court has chosen to ignore their decision.
“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.”
Lord Tebbit, a Cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said: “Judges are out of their boxes these days and need to be put back in. It was clearly not an advisory referendum – it was Parliament asking people to make a decision.”
Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, hit out at the “shocking judicial activism”, adding: “These judges are politicians without accountability.”
John Baron, a Tory MP who supported Leave, said the decision “must not be allowed to frustrate the will of the British people” and vowed to “man the barricades if the result is not respected”.
CREDIT: DAN KITWOOD /GETTY
Last night Sajid Javid, a Cabinet minister who backed Remain ahead of the referendum, said the judges’ decision had opened an “important moral issue”.
He told BBC’s Question Time: “This is an attempt to frustrate the will of the British people and it is unacceptable.”
Mr Javid added that the Government could win a vote of MPs next week to trigger Article 50.
“That is what I am not fearful about but that process would potentially lead to a worse deal for the British people,” he said, because it would mean the UK had to negotiate Brexit more quickly.
MPs backing Remain, including George Osborne, the former Chancellor, and Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, said that the ruling will allow them to force Mrs May to reveal in the Commons detailed plans for Brexit.
Mrs May has repeatedly refused to “show her cards” before Britain begins formal negotiations with the EU.
If Europhile MPs attempt to amend the Act of Parliament on Article 50 to such a degree that it is seen as watering down Brexit, Mrs May could be forced to trigger an early general election in order to increase her majority in the Commons.
One minister said that Mrs May and her closest advisers are “completely against” calling an early general election.
However, backbenchers including Mr Raab and Mr Duncan Smith suggested that she could be forced to call a national vote if MPs are seen to be attempting to block Brexit.
Mr Raab said: “The elephant in the room here is if we get to the stage where [MPs] are not willing to allow this negotiation to even begin, I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again.”
The case was brought to the High Court by Gina Miller, a wealthy philanthropist. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, said triggering Article 50 without a Commons vote would be contrary to “the fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament”.
Tags: Article 50, Brexit, Britain, constitutional crisis, EU, European Union, Europhile, Europhile MPs, Gina Miller, High Court judges, Jean-Claude Juncker, Lord Justice Sales, Lord Thomas, Parliament, parliamentary vote, Sir Terence Etherton, supreme court, the will of the British people, Theresa May, Tony Blair, UK, UK economy, UKIP, will of the people