British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to initiate proceedings to leave the European Union early next year hit a major stumbling block on Thursday.
The High Court of England has ruled that the British government does not have the authority to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and unilaterally initiate proceedings to leave the European Union.
The court ruled that the government must first obtain approval from the British parliament: “The most fundamental rule of the U.K.’s constitution is that parliament is sovereign,” said Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, England’s most senior judge.
The decision complicates the government’s plans to implement a referendum vote by the British people to leave the European Union. Most members of parliament opposed separating from Brussels and could in theory move to block the government from invoking Article 50 altogether.
The British pound rose 1.18 percent against the dollar on the news. Sterling had fallen to a three-decade low in the wake of the shock British vote to leave the European Union in the June referendum.
“Our plan remains to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, we believe the legal timetable should allow for that.”
Ms. May’s office said the prime minister was “disappointed” with Thursday’s high court ruling and vowed to appeal. The British Supreme Court will likely hear the appeal in December.
“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by an act of parliament,” a government spokesman said. “And the government is determined to respect the result of the referendum. We will appeal this judgment.”
Last month, Ms. May announced she would trigger Article 50 in March, which would put Britain on track to leave the European Union by the summer of 2019. Brussels has pressed Britain to begin negotiations as soon as possible to clear up political uncertainty.
“Our plan remains to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, we believe the legal timetable should allow for that,” a spokeswoman for Ms. May told reporters after the court’s decision. “We have no intention of letting this derail our timetable.”
For the moment at least, there appears to be little concern in Brussels. Elmar Brok, head of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament said he expected “no dramatic consequences and no delays” from the court decision. If it came to a vote, he predicted that even Brexit opponents would vote in favor of leaving, given the referendum outcome.
Though blocking Brexit altogether would be politically tricky, pro-European parliamentarians could at least press the British government to take a softer stance in its negotiations with Brussels.
There’s growing concerns on both sides of the channel that London might opt for a so-called hard exit, in which it reintroduces immigration controls on E.U. citizens, thereby provoking Brussels to shut Britain out of the single market.
Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: email@example.com