The European Court of Justice this morning ruled that Britain can unilaterally revoke article 50, and halt its withdrawal from the EU.
“The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU,” the court said, following an action by Scottish politicians asking whether Britain could pull out of the withdrawal process.
The emergency judgment comes just a day before the British House of Commons was due to vote on a Brexit deal agreed with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May – though it appears that that vote is now being postponed.
It is being reported that the prime minister will make an oral statement at 3.30pm this afternoon that is widely expected to confirm that she intends to seek further concessions from Brussels in order to try to win over rebellious backbenchers.
Under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, any member state can declare its intention to quit the union, which Britain is scheduled to do on 29 March following the June 2016 Brexit referendum vote.
The CJEU this morning ruled that “when a member state has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification”.
Article 50 can be revoked as long as a withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU has not entered into force, or if no agreement has been reached during the two-year period.
The CJEU ruled that it would be inconsistent with the EU Treaties’ purpose of “creating an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe to force the withdrawal of a member state,” after that state has notified its intention to withdraw, and following a democratic process that decides to revoke its notification to withdraw.
The six Scottish politicians who took the case -- MEPs Catherine Stihler, David Martin, Alyn Smith; MSPs Ross Greer and Andy Wightman; and MP and Queen’s Counsel Joanna Cherry -- welcomed the judgment as better than expected. MEP Alyn Smith described the timing as sublime:
“As colleagues in the House of Commons consider Mrs May’s disastrous deal, we now have a roadmap out of this Brexit shambles. A bright light has switched on above an ‘exit’ sign.”
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that the legal text of the withdrawal agreement would not change.
He described the deal as a "hard-won compromise" that was fair to both the EU and Britain.
"The deal ... is not going to change. Particularly the legal language of the withdrawal treaty. I hope people will see it for what it is, which is a fair, balanced document," he said in Brussels this morning.