The UK can unilaterally revoke its withdrawal from the EU, the European Court of Justice declared today.In a dramatic ruling delivered as Theresa May makes her final push to win over MPs ahead of the crucial vote on her Brexit deal, the court ruled that Britain ‘is free to revoke its notification’.
The court found that if the UK does decide to revoke Article 50 and stop the Brexit process it would remain in the EU as a member state and the revocation must be decided following ‘democratic process’.
A spokeswoman for the court said: ‘In today’s judgment, the Full Court has 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.’
The prime minister’s withdrawal agreement has already been endorsed by the 27 other EU leaders but now it faces its toughest test in parliament.
Remain MPs hailed the judgment as a sign that Mrs May’s Brexit deal ‘is not the only option’ and that Britain ‘can change course and remain.’
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, however, insisted the ruling does not alter the Government’s intention to leave the EU in March 2019.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We voted very clearly – 17.4 million people sent a clear message that we wanted to leave the European Union and that means also leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’
Mr Gove also confirmed that the vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will go ahead on Tuesday.
The judgment added: ‘That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired.’
The court ruled, contrary to the UK Government’s position, that the case is “relevant and not hypothetical”.
However, the UK Government has said its policy is not to revoke Article 50.
The case was brought by a cross-party group of Scottish politicians, Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, SNP MP Joanna Cherry and MEP Alyn Smith, and Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer, together with lawyer Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project.
They argued that unilateral revocation is possible and believe it could pave the way for an alternative option to Brexit, such as a People’s Vote to enable remaining in the EU.
The Scottish Government said the ruling provided another option apart from the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that extending Article 50 to allow for another vote and then revoking it if the outcome was Remain now seemed an option open to the House of Commons.
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: ‘The ECJ has made clear that the UK can stop Brexit unilaterally. The Government can therefore prevent a chaotic no-deal.
‘For the sake of people’s livelihoods, the Prime Minister must end the uncertainty and rule out a no-deal.
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‘It is clear any Brexit will make people poorer and reduce the UK’s standing in the world.
‘MPs should not only vote down Theresa May’s deal, but back a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU.’
SNP MEP Alyn Smith, one of a cross-party group of Scottish politicians who brought the case, said it was ‘dynamite’.
He said: ‘Bringing the case was a risk but it has worked better than we could have hoped for.
‘Our case has confirmed, once and for all and from the highest court in the business, that the UK can indeed change its mind on Brexit and revoke Article 50, unilaterally.
‘The timing is 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.’