Today the Supreme Court has revealed an eagerly-awaited judgment on Brexit.
The Court was faced with a dispute as to whether the Government could go ahead and invoke Article 50, which will see us leave the EU, or whether parliamentary authority is needed.
The judgment has been cast, and Theresa May must seek the permission of MPs before embarking on the two-year countdown to Brexit.
Interestingly, the judgment is not unanimous and insiders suggest that a minority report may emerge from the three dissenting judges.
The Supreme Court is ‘the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases’ – in other words, it’s the big boss of bickering. It was established in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, prior to which the House of Lords had the final say on civil disputes.
In our common law system, there exists no ‘book of rules’ to which the Supreme Court can turn and so the judges looked to previous disputes on the same subject in order to reach a decision.
You’ve no doubt already heard the name ‘Gina Miller’ amidst discussion on this judgment.
It was the Government’s appeal against her case that provided leading precedent on the principles underpinning the Brexit dispute. Her case affirmed that the UK’s membership of the EU has given rights to British citizens, ‘granted by parliament’.
Nodding to this precedent, the Supreme Court has concluded that triggering Article 50, leading to a loss of some of those rights, must be a decision of Parliament not of the Government using Crown powers.
Gina Miller herself spoke outside the Supreme Court this morning, applauding the verdict.
‘Only parliament can grant rights to the British people and only Parliament can take them away. No Prime Minister, no Government, can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged. Parliament alone is sovereign.’
Lord Neuberger has emphasised that the judgment is not about the referendum result nor is it a comment on the merits of leaving or staying in the EU.
He stated: ‘The referendum is of great political significance, but the Act of Parliament authorising it did not say what would happen afterwards’.
Criticisms of the vague drafting of the 2015 Referendum Act were inevitable. This case would not have arisen had the Referendum Act made the Article 50 trigger clear.
Today’s verdict was particularly anticipated by devolved governments.
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments all submitted evidence arguing that the consent of devolved administrations should be required to trigger Brexit.
However, the judgment clearly states that: ‘The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU’. In other words, the cards did not fall in their favour.
Political reaction has been mixed but largely predictable.
Alex Salmond has promised that the SNP will make ‘serious and substantive’ amendments to the Article 50 Bill.
Corbyn has assured the public that Labour will attempt to amend the Article 50 Bill but will not ‘frustrate’ the Brexit process.
And the Lib Dems have stated that they will vote against the Bill unless the Government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal.
The parliamentary vote must take place before the end of March, so discussion of this process will plague your headlines over the few weeks.
But for now, the message is clear – step down from the vehicle Theresa, parliament will take the wheel from here.