UK can unilaterally stop Brexit: top EU court

The court started the hearing on Nov. 27. (File/AP)
Updated 11 December 2018
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UK can unilaterally stop Brexit: top EU court

  • “The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU,” the court said
  • The ruling is in line with an opinion delivered last week by a Court legal adviser

LUXEMBOURG/LONDON: The European Union's top court ruled on Monday that the United Kingdom can unilaterally revoke its divorce notice, raising the hopes of pro-Europeans ahead of a crucial vote in the British parliament on Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal.
Just 36 hours before British lawmakers vote on May's deal, the Court of Justice said in an emergency judgment that London could revoke its Article 50 formal divorce notice with no penalty.
May's government said the ruling means nothing because it has no intention of reversing its decision to leave the EU on March 29. But critics of her deal say the ruling provides options -- either to delay Brexit and renegotiate withdrawal terms, or cancel it if British voters change their minds.
The timing of the ruling on the eve of the British parliamentary vote was not a coincidence: the court said it had ruled with unprecedented haste to ensure that British lawmakers would understand their options.
It also defied the EU's own executive, which had argued permission was needed from other EU states to stop Brexit. Britain could stay with no penalty, it ruled, despite some European leaders saying it should have to give up perks agreed over the years, such as a valuable rebate on its dues.
"The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU," it said. "Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the United Kingdom remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged."
Arriving to meet EU counterparts in Brussels, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the ruling "irrelevant". The majority of British voters, who decided in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, would be "shocked and very angry" if Brexit were halted.


But Alyn Smith, a Scottish nationalist member of the European Parliament and one of the Brexit opponents who had brought the case to the top EU court in Luxembourg, said the ruling "sends a clear message to UK MPs ahead of tomorrow's vote that there is a way out of this mess".
The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain as dozens of lawmakers -- both those who back a cleaner break with the EU and those who want closer ties -- have publicly promised to vote down May's divorce deal.
Opponents say the deal could keep Britain subject to some EU rules indefinitely, even after it gives up its influence over setting them. May's government says the terms are the only way to exit while protecting the supply chains of British business. Both Brussels and London say there is no scope to renegotiate.
In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying. Polls suggest a re-run would still be close, although some older voters, who mainly voted to leave, have died and young people who mostly want to stay have reached voting age.
BREXIT REVERSED?
Campaigners hoping to stop Brexit have been buoyed in recent weeks as May herself warned that if her deal was defeated then the United Kingdom could face either a no deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.
Both May's ruling Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are publicly committed to carrying out Brexit. But a no-deal Brexit is seen as so disruptive that parliament would be under strong pressure to block it.
A growing number of backbench members of parliament says the only way out may be a new referendum, an option publicly backed by three of the four living former prime ministers.
Michael Gove, the most prominent Brexit campaigner in the British government, said the ruling "doesn't alter either the referendum vote or the clear intention of the government to leave on March 29".
"We don't want to stay in the EU," Gove, who serves as environment minister, told BBC radio. "We voted very clearly. 17.4 million people sent a clear message that we wanted to leave the European Union and that also means leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
British newspapers have reported that May could delay the Dec. 11 vote on her deal. The Northern Irish party which props up her government has suggested she should dash to Brussels to clinch better terms. The EU says the agreement is the best it can offer and its substance cannot be changed.
Gove said the vote would go ahead as planned. Current forecasts indicate May's deal will be defeated, a step that would thrust the government's Brexit plans into confusion.


Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

Updated 31 min 43 sec ago
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Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

  • Investigation team said in May 2018 that BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit Boeing 777 had originated from 53rd Russian military brigade
  • One of the accused Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved

NIEUWGEIN: International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the first people to face justice over the tragedy five years ago in which 298 people were killed.
The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.
Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.
The Dutch-led inquiry team said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.
The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news.”
“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.
Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defense minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.
Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetznaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.
Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.
During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.
Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.
“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.
Australia said Wednesday’s announcement was a “significant step” toward achieving justice, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it was “an important milestone in the efforts to uncover the full truth.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility,” while the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s said he hoped to see “everyone who is to blame for the murder of innocent children, women and men” go on trial.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.