Was Brexit Illegal? High Court Ruling Explained

Three judges ruled on Thursday that Theresa May cannot invoke Article 50 – to start formal exit negotiations with the EU – without Parliament’s support. But what does that all mean? Source gives you the answers. 

Following the EU Referendum in July that saw 52% of Britain vote to leave the EU, there has been a lot of changes in British politics.

David Cameron and Nigel Farage both stepped down from their respective roles, Theresa May became our Prime Minister (without an election) and Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to call a second Independence Referendum.

It’s been a busy summer with lots of panic and confusion. But May promised that the UK would leave the EU soon because ‘Brexit means Brexit’. May has since said that she intends to trigger Article 50 as early as March 2017 – all without consulting Parliament.

But is it possible for her to do that? Apparently not, according to yesterday’s high court ruling. Their judgement goes back to the 1689 Bill of Rights which asserts Parliament’s sovereignty over any one individual. In other words, Parliament has the ultimate say-so. And there is not much the queen or the Prime Minister can do about it.




According to the high court ruling, Brexit cannot occur without the consent of Parliament – even though 52% of people in the UK want to go. The truth of the matter is that the referendum was not legally binding. Really, it was nothing more than a huge opinion poll. It can only truly come into affect if our MPs make a collective decision in parliament on behalf of all the people they were elected to represent.

The judgement said:
“The Court does not accept the argument put forward by the Government. There is nothing in the text of the 1972 Act to support it. In the judgement of the Court the argument is contrary both to the language used by Parliament in the 1972 Act and to the fundamental constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament and the absence on the Crown to change domestic law by exercise of its prerogative powers.”

In simpler terms this means that allowing parliament to have the final say is a crucial part of the democratic process in Britain. To make a change without consulting the parliament is therefore not only undemocratic but illegal.

This legal challenge was brought to the attention of the courts by a woman called Gina Miller.  She is London-based investment manager who was born in Guyana but grew up in Britain. Miller will go down in history as the lead claimant in the legal action against the Prime Minister, by successfully arguing that individual members of the Cabinet have no legal power to trigger Article 50.

Speaking outside of the court today Miller said: “you can’t have a government casually throwing away people’s rights – that’s why we turned to the courts.”

She added: “The result today is about all of us, it’s not about me or my team. It’s about our United Kingdom and all our futures. It’s not about how anyone voted.

“Every one of us voted for the best country and the best future. This case was about process not politics.”

#brexit #irony #politics #law

A photo posted by Michele Neylon (@mneylon) on


So what does this all mean for Brexit? Well, we can’t leave the EU without the approval of Parliament and that could take months and months. They might even vote no to the plans. Either way, it’s not good news for May who wanted us to start the leaving process as quickly as possible.

A Government spokesperson has since said that they intend to appeal the high court’s decision.

Let us know your thoughts, and any questions you have, over on Twitter!

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