UK MPs can end Brexit divorce process, says adviser from EU’s top court

  • British lawmakers have until ‘the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded’ to unilaterally revoke intention to leave the bloc, the adviser says
  • At the same time, parliament begins debating PM Theresa May’s deal with the EU, which opposition and Tory rebels say they will vote down
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 5:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 10:24pm

EU countries can unilaterally end the divorce process from the bloc, the legal adviser to the union’s top court said on Tuesday in a closely watched case launched by anti-Brexit politicians in Britain.

The case was referred to the European Court of Justice by a Scottish court and hinges on whether British MPs could simply revoke the country’s “Article 50” EU withdrawal process.

“Advocate General Campos Sanchez-Bordona proposes that the European Court of Justice should declare that Article 50 authorises the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the Union,” a statement from the court said. “That possibility continues to exist until the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded.”

We now have a road map out of the Brexit shambles, a bright light has switched on above an ‘exit’ sign
Alyn Smith, Scottish National Party

Sanchez-Bordona said it was essential MPs knew they could stop Brexit, dismissing the British government’s claims the issue was hypothetical.

His opinion is a major boost for a cross-party group of Scottish parliamentarians, led by Andy Wightman, a Scottish Green Party lawmaker. They launched their legal action in December last year.

Alyn Smith, a Scottish National Party MEP involved in the legal action, said the opinion confirmed their long-held view that Westminster could “stop the clock” on Brexit.

“We now have a road map out of the Brexit shambles, a bright light has switched on above an ‘exit’ sign and the false choice being offered to MPs at Westminster – that it is Mrs May’s disastrous deal or chaos – is shown for what it is, an abuse of parliament,” he said.

Downing Street fought strenuously to prevent the case reaching the European court, tabling a last-minute appeal with the UK Supreme Court only days before the hearing in Luxembourg. The appeal was rejected.

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While the opinion from Sanchez-Bordona is not binding on the judges, it is unusual for the ECJ to reach a decision that contradicts the advice of an advocate general.

If the court endorses his opinion, anti-Brexit campaigners will seize on the ruling as proof that Brexit can be reversed by MPs more smoothly than the UK government has argued.

However, they face one further hurdle as the case will return to the Scottish courts, which will need to issue a final ruling on the issue.

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