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Brexit Supreme Court decision

Published: 24 January 2017

Brexit: Don’t be distracted by Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s decision that an act of Parliament is needed before the Government can trigger Article 50. While an important constitutional matter has been resolved, businesses should not lose focus and continue to plan ahead for a future outside of the single market.


Today’s decision, by a majority of 8 to 3 Justices, was generally expected and followed the same reasons as the High Court decision in December 2016. More importantly, the Supreme Court decided that the Government does not need to consult the devolved powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before invoking Article 50.


The Government will now be confident of getting the support it needs to pass the legislation required to give it the authority to trigger Article 50. It is widely expected that a clear majority of MPs will vote to authorise the Government to trigger Article 50 when the Bill comes before Parliament. Many people estimate that around 550 MPs will vote in favour of the Government with a small minority of fewer than 100 voting against. Even former passionate ‘Remain’ campaigners including Hilary Benn, Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Brexit, have said they would vote in favour of upholding the referendum and giving the authority to the Government.


What Next?


Attention will now turn to the drafting of the bill to authorise the triggering of Article 50. A detailed bill and proper Parliamentary debate would be helpful guidance for business to plan for an uncertain future.  However, this is unlikely and a one-line bill to give the authority is the most likely outcome.


The Supreme Court also decided that the Government does not need to consult the devolved powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before triggering Article 50. The High Court didn’t have jurisdiction and so didn’t look at this point. The devolved powers are more opposed to the style of Brexit proposed by the Government and so the Supreme Court’s decision will be a huge relief to the Government.


The Government will be confident of getting a commanding majority to authorise Article 50 and will be relieved that it does not have to consult the devolved powers. The path has now been cleared and the triggering of Article 50 on the Government’s terms is now inevitable. At most there may be a short delay before the Government’s self-imposed deadline of the end of March is reached.


Regardless of what the legislation looks like, businesses in the UK can now be in no doubt that they need to prepare for the reality of Brexit and what that means for them and their trade around the world.

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