EU court can hear case on halting Brexit, Scotland’s Court of Session rules

Brexit continues to be mired in doubt after EU leaders cautioned Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday that unless she presented an alternative to her current proposals, Britain would crash out of the EU without a deal. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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EU court can hear case on halting Brexit, Scotland’s Court of Session rules

  • The Court of Session decision means the ECJ should say whether it is legally possible for Britain to stay in the world’s biggest trading bloc if and when the UK parliament so decides

EDINBURGH: A legal appeal to decide if Britain alone can change its mind about leaving the European Union should be given consideration by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Scotland’s highest court said on Friday in a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners.
Rounding out a week of bad news for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans, petitioners argued successfully that legal certainty about the process is needed in advance of any British parliamentary vote because no country has ever withdrawn from the European Union.
The Court of Session decision means the ECJ should say whether it is legally possible for Britain to stay in the world’s biggest trading bloc if and when the UK parliament so decides.
Brexit continues to be mired in doubt after EU leaders cautioned Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday that unless she presented an alternative to her current proposals, Britain would crash out of the EU without a deal.
Jo Maugham, a lawyer funding the judicial appeal, described the Scottish court’s decision to refer the issue to the European court as an “absolute bombshell” for the government.
London has argued that the question of whether Britain alone can stop Brexit is irrelevant, since it does not intend to change its mind.
The Court of Session disagreed.
“If Members of Parliament are to cast their votes in a responsible manner, it is surely obvious that they should be properly advised as to the existing legal position so far as that may be relevant to their deliberations,” Lord Carloway said in his judgment.
Britain’s Brexit ministry said it was “disappointed” by the decision and would carefully consider its response.
“As the government has repeatedly said, we are committed to implementing the result of the (2016) referendum and will not be revoking Article 50 (withdrawal clause),” a spokesman said.
Friday’s decision could now, theoretically, face another appeal before the UK Supreme Court, although legal sources close to the case believe that option is unlikely.
Pro-European petitioners argued that while there is no legal doubt that Britain could stop Brexit with the permission of the other 27-member states, it should seek to establish a legal right to do so unilaterally whether the rest of the bloc likes it or not.
The lawmakers behind the challenge represent electoral areas in Scotland which voted strongly to remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum. The United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave.


Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

Updated 14 min 54 sec ago
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Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

  • Scotland will start preparing for independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from Westminster
  • London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary

EDINBURGH: Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum. But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
"A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament.
She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019, and that Scotland did not need permission at this stage from London.
London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary "to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum," she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to remain within the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified as Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from independence supporters to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain's leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
Since Scots rejected independence 55-45 percent in 2014, polls show that support has changed little. Grassroots supporters will launch a new campaign this week before the SNP spring conference this weekend.
"I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (UK) parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role," Curtice told Reuters.
Her address took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
"The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose - and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is - how do we fix it?" she said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
"Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," said David Mundell, Britain's Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world's largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland's economic well-being.
"We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe."