BY EMMA RUBIN '20
The majority vote of a United Kingdom referendum held in June 2016 called for the state’s secession from the European Union. This division, commonly known as Brexit, began to face additional hurdles on Nov. 3 when the state’s High Court of Justice ruled that Parliament must first approve the procedure.
With 52 percent of the vote in the June referendum, the choice Leave narrowly surpassed Remain. Following the results, David Cameron resigned as prime minister because he felt he would not be able to execute the preferences. Prime Minister Theresa May took office after he left and has since moved forward with plans to withdraw from the EU, although she has not yet done anything official. Prime Minister May had originally been hoping to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, a clause which outlines regulations for leaving the EU, by March 2017. The new court decision will halt her endeavors.
The official summary of the ruling declared, “We decide that the government does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”
According to The Telegraph, the Crown’s royal prerogative allows the head of state, Prime Minister or the Cabinet, to make decisions without parliamentary approval.
In the judgement, the court emphasized that the UK’s parliamentary democracy makes any referendum advisory and that the referendum was approved as such by Parliament. The court also cited that basing the decision to leave solely on the referendum would leave many other questions concerning the withdrawal to be answered and Parliament would not effectively be able to resolve these questions if it had not approved plans to leave itself.
On the UK government’s official website, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox wrote, “The government is determined to respect the result of the referendum.” Specifically, the government expressed intent to appeal the verdict to ensure that the referendum’s results are fulfilled.
Norman Smith, an assistant political editor at BBC, predicted that parliamentary approval will delay the departure by months but that most members, even those in favor of remaining, will respect the results of the referendum.
Still, the sudden change in ruling is causing a distrust between citizens who voted and the government. Graime Gibbons, a citizen of a London bureau who voted in favor of Brexit, told CNN “People voted for Brexit in good faith and now they’re being told that it may not go ahead –so I think they’ll be feeling pretty disillusioned and cheated.”
According to the clause, once a state invokes Article 50 to leave the union, it must complete negotiations within two years or the process will fail, unless the EU grants an extension. The article was first authored in 2007 for the Treaty of Lisbon. According to The Independent, at that time, no one anticipated that a member state would want to leave the organization. To invoke this amendment, the UK government must first officially notify the EU, headquartered in Brussels, and from there the UK can proceed to meet with the 27 other member states regarding trade deals. Each of these other states must approve the UK leaving before it can.
There is also still a lack of clarity regarding the extent to which the UK will leave the EU. The Independent reported that some favor a relationship like Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein have, in which they are not member states but are still part of the European Economic Area through membership in the European Free Trade Association. A deal like this, which would allow continued access to the single market and customs union, a free market trade bloc with a single external tariff, has been named a ‘soft Brexit.’
Others favor a ‘hard Brexit’ which calls for separation as quickly as possible and withdrawal from the single market and customs union. The Independent explained that a deal like this would probably mean that the UK would rely on World Trade Organization regulations to trade with remaining EU member states. However, now that Parliament must first approve the withdrawal these specifics will likely not be seriously considered until Article 50 is invoked.
Austen Borg ’20 has dual citizenship with the UK and her mother is British. She recalled when her mother first told her about the referendum results, “Her face was so grave,” she said, “Her face made it look like someone had died.” Borg is pleased that the ruling could delay Brexit for a couple months and has the potential to invalidate the results of the referendum. “I think that Britain is going through a tough time right now and I hope we’ll come out of it.”