This Week in Brexit: 27 January


This week has seen a veritable feast of Brexity news.

On Monday Theresa May unveiled the Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which aims to boost the post-Brexit British economy. You can read it in its full 132 pages here. Or you can read our helpful 3 page summary here.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court issued their ruling, confirming that the Government will have to bring forth an Act of Parliament before they can activate Article 50. You can read the Chamber response here. We also have some “guest analysis” on the ruling below.

On Wednesday, in response to Opposition and backbench calls, Theresa May confirmed that the Government will publish a white paper on Brexit negotiation priorities and principles.

On Thursday, with impressive speed, the Government published the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill and announced that MPs would have just five days to debate it. Also on Thursday the latest GDP figures showed the economy grew 0.6% in Q4, in line with Q3 and Q2 which has been widely seen as a sign of the current resilience of the UK economy.

Today, Theresa May is undertaking a visit to the US to meet new President Donald Trump to determine what this “special relationship” will look like in this new political era.

This week our guest analysis on the Supreme Court ruling comes from Fiona de Londras, Professor of Global Legal Studies, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. The University of Birmingham is a member of the GBCC Brexit Advisory Group. The below is an extract from Fiona’s full article, originally published on The Conversation.

The political battle begins

Despite this ruling, the question remains whether the act now to be presented to parliament can amount to a few lines or if it needs to be something more detailed. The court made it clear that the form of the act is entirely for parliament (and thus politics) to decide.

The government will likely want to keep the Article 50 bill as short as possible to minimise the potential for delays. But it is conceivable that parliament might refuse to give consent until it has a clearer steer from the government on what its red line priorities will be in the Brexit negotiation. The prime minister has outlined the principles that underpin her approach to Brexit, but parliament may want more detail, and it may refuse to authorise Article 50 being triggered until it has received it.

More likely, it may try to insert substantive amendments into the bill. It could, for example, demand continued membership of the single market after Brexit, even though May has said she plans to leave, thus attempting to force a change of tack from the government in its strategy. It may also attempt to insert a clause requiring the government to keep parliament informed of how negotiations are proceeding.

It is difficult to imagine such efforts succeeding, but this does not mean the process in the House of Commons will be a comfortable one for the government. Of course, the House of Lords will also have to vote, and without a government majority there, delays and complications are readily imaginable.

Does this mean that parliament can block Brexit? Theoretically yes, but it is difficult to foresee a perpetual refusal to allow Article 50 to be triggered. There is a clear question of legitimacy here: parliament gave the people a vote, the people voted for Brexit, and one way or another that is likely to be the end result. What the Supreme Court decision does, however, is to ensure that parliament is empowered to make the government accountable for how it gives effect to that vote.

After all, that is what constitutional law is about: dividing power, making government accountable, ensuring effective governance. What the Supreme Court has done in this case is no different to what it does everyday: it decided on what it considers to be the legally appropriate way of exercising state power in a particular set of circumstances. The context may make this seem sensational, but such decisions are of the essence of a mature constitutional democracy.

The court has done its part, as have “the people’”. Now, it is over to parliament and the government.