Scottish Parliament denied vote on Article 50

The Supreme Court has ruled that devolved administrations will not have a say in the activation of a clause that will begin Britain's exit from the European Union.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

The government must win a vote in the House of Commons before it can trigger Article 50 to start the process of taking the UK out of the European Union, the highest court in the UK ruled.

The 11 justices of the Supreme Court decided by a majority of 8 to 3 to reject an appeal by ministers against a High Court judgment blocking their decision to begin Britain’s exit from the European Union without Parliament having a say.

But in a decision that could have significant implications for the future of the UK constitution, the justices unanimously rejected an intervention from the Scottish Government, seeking legal backing for a vote of MSPs on triggering Article 50.

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Stefan RousseauSTEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Delivering the ruling, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said that “UK ministers are not legally compelled to consult the devolved legislatures before triggering Article 50.”

The Scottish Government had based its legal argument on the Sewel Convention, which states that the Scottish Parliament should be consulted when Westminster legislates on devolved matters.

But Lord Neuberger said that “relations with the EU are a matter for the UK government” and confirmed that the Sewel Convention had no legal weight.

“The Sewel Convention plays an important part in the operation of the UK constitution, but the policing of its scope and its operation is not a matter for the courts,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Stefan RousseauSTEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images

The Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved administrations also intervened seeking a vote on the triggering of Article 50.

The case was brought by a wide-ranging group of anti-Article 50 campaigners led by investment manager Gina Miller, 51, and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos.

The SNP demanded Mrs May treat the devolved administrations “as equal partners” in the Brexit process.

The Scottish nationalists plan to bring “serious and substantive” amendments to the Article 50 legislation, with international affairs spokesman Alex Salmond saying these would “address the very serious concerns facing the UK and the very real issues that the UK Government has, thus far, avoided”.

Mr Salmond, speaking from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision and hope that their ruling brings this Tory Government back to the reality that they cannot simply bypass elected parliamentarians to fulfil their role in carrying out due and proper scrutiny of one of the biggest decisions facing the UK.

“The Prime Minister and her hard Brexit brigade must treat devolved administrations as equal partners - as indeed she promised to do.

“For over six months the concerns surrounding a hard Tory Brexit have been echoing throughout the land and yet the Prime Minister has not listened.

“If Theresa May is intent on being true to her word that Scotland and the other devolved administrations are equal partners in this process, then now is the time to show it. Now is the time to sit with the Joint Ministerial Committee and not just casually acknowledge, but constructively engage. Consultation must mean consultation.

“Our amendments will address the very serious concerns facing the UK and the very real issues that the UK Government has, thus far, avoided.”

Commenting on the ruling, Lord Chancellor Liz Truss defended the independence of the judiciary.

Ministers faced criticism for failing to back the High Court judges when they came under fire from some Brexiteers after their initial ruling last year.

Stressing that the UK would respect the decision of the court, Ms Truss said: “Our independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and is vital to our constitution and our freedoms.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would not “frustrate the process for invoking Article 50” but would seek to amend the legislation to prevent the UK becoming a “bargain basement tax haven”.

But the Liberal Democrats, who have just nine MPs but more than 100 peers, will vote against Article 50 unless there is a guarantee of the public having a vote on the final deal.

The pound fell following the decision by Britain’s Supreme Court.

Sterling was trading 0.8% down against the dollar at 1.24 and fell 0.46% versus the euro at 1.16 euro.

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