LONDON — The UK has the power to unilaterally reverse Brexit, the EU’s highest court has ruled.
The European Court of Justice ruled on Monday that that Article 50, the legal mechanism which kickstarted Brexit, allows the unilateral revocation of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
That means the possibility of revoking Article 50 will continue to exist until the Article 50 process has formally concluded, which is scheduled for March next year.
The court case was referred to the ECJ by Edinburgh’s Court of Session in September after a legal case was brought by a group of anti-Brexit Scottish politicians including Joanna Cherry QC and Alyn Smith MEP, as well as lawyer Jo Maugham QC.
Joanna Cherry QC MP said: “I’m delighted that we now know definitively that there is an option to stay in the EU.
“The UK government has ignored Scotland’s vote to remain and all compromises suggested by the Scottish Government.
“They also fought us every inch of the way in this case, so it’s a particularly sweet irony that Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts have provided this lifeline to the UK parliament at this moment of crisis.”
The ruling is careful not to leave the door open for the British government to use it as a mechanism to buy more time for Brexit talks.
It states that any revocation must be “unequivocal and unconditional.”
Without such a clause it may have been possible for the UK to repeatedly re-start the Article 50 process.
‘All just a bad dream’?
The ruling means that Article 50, which triggered the UK’s EU withdrawal process in March 2017, can be revoked without the agreement of the other 27 European member states.
Having the unilateral power to reverse Article 50 would allow the UK to retain the perks of its current membership including the economic rebate that Margaret Thatcher negotiated in 1984 and the UK’s opt-out from the Euro. These would potentially be lost were Britain forced to seek the approval of the rest of the EU to reverse Brexit.
Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s Budget Commissioner has previously stated that under those circumstances “the gradual exit from the rebate would still be kept.”
Jolyon Maugham told BI in October that having the power to unilaterally reverse Brexit “sweetens the option of remaining” for the UK government.
“Plainly it is better for the country if we can unilaterally revoke the Article 50 notice,” Maugham added. “In that circumstance, we know that we could treat Brexit as though it was all just a bad dream.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has previously said that the EU27 would need to provide their consent to reverse the Brexit process. In that scenario, should the government seek in future to remain in the EU, it would have lost the perks of membership it currently enjoys.
The ruling comes just one day before Theresa May is due to put her unpopular Brexit deal before parliament, as rumours grow that she will delay the vote to avoid what looks likely to be a crushing defeat.