Judges Throw Out Brexit Lawsuit Seeking Single-Market Vote

  • London court rules after hearing that lasts less than an hour
  • Ruling is boost for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans

Booth: U.K. Trying to Ensure Its Relevance to the EU

Two U.K. judges threw out a lawsuit seeking to force a parliamentary vote on whether Britain should remain in the European Union’s single market for goods and services following a court hearing that took less than an hour.

Judges Clive Lewis and David Lloyd Jones dismissed the case after expressing concerns that there was too much uncertainty about the government’s Brexit strategy to seek votes on specific issues tied to two years of negotiations with the EU. The judges will give their full reasoning later Friday afternoon.

“By the time two years have passed, when these things become relevant, there may have been other legislative developments and we simply don’t know what will happen," Lewis said. "There is a third party in this marriage, Parliament, and you don’t know what they are going to do."

The ruling is a boost for Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to trigger Brexit and begin negotiations with the EU by the end of March. A ruling by the U.K. Supreme Court last month that forced May to get a vote of Parliament on Article 50 has done little to interfere with the schedule.

For more on the consequences of May’s Brexit strategy, click here

While the ruling is a boon for May, it’s a setback for pro-Europe groups that hoped to use momentum from last month’s decision by the top judges to impose more parliamentary oversight on the government’s strategy.

As in the Article 50 case, lawyers for the pro-Europe "Article 127 Campaign" told the court that the referendum to leave the EU didn’t cover Britain’s membership in the European Economic Area and the issue must be decided by Parliament.

“The government has no power under the royal prerogative or otherwise to give such notice and leave the EEA without prior Parliamentary authorization,” lawyers said in court documents. “To do so would be unlawful as it would remove or frustrate the fundamental rights that parliament has conferred on individuals under domestic law.”

In documents filed to the court, the government said that by withdrawing from the EU, any obligations the U.K. has to the EEA cease to apply. But it was the contention that the lawsuit is premature because no formal negotiations with the EU have started that won the judges over.

Withdrawal Machinery

"There has been no decision as to the machinery of withdrawal from the EEA," government lawyer James Eadie said. "This application is premature and should be dismissed."

The Article 127 campaign, which refers to the clause in EU treaties that established the single market, is spearheaded by Peter Wilding and Adrian Yalland, who took opposing sides in the referendum. Yalland is leading the lawsuit, which has been combined with four European citizens who sought permission to conceal their identities because they fear for their safety.

"For a Norwegian citizen working in the U.K. or a Liechtenstein company operating in the U.K., the EEA agreement is the only source of their rights,” George Peretz, a lawyer for the Article 127 campaign, said Friday.

The victory does not herald the end of May’s legal headaches. Attorney Jolyon Maugham filed a lawsuit Jan. 27 in Dublin that could force the EU’s top court to decide whether Britain can unilaterally stop its implementation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal process for exiting the EU, once it has been started.

Friday’s judgment wasn’t a surprise, though the challenge could be rekindled if the government "purports to trigger Article 127 at a later date," Maugham said. "This is a very important decision for the country so it’s unfortunate that the government is wanting us to proceed through a fog of legal uncertainty, where legal certainty might be available. "

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