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SNP to table 50 amendments

Parliament must vote on Article 50, say judges

CommonsThe Government cannot trigger Article 50 on leaving the European Union without Parliament having a vote, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Judges rejected the government’s appeal by eight votes to three. An Act of Parliament will be required. The court also ruled that the devolved administrations will not have a separate vote.

However, Labour immediately said it would not oppose the government, with some conditions. Leader Jeremy Corbyn wants a number of amendments including a “meaningful” vote before the government signs the Brexit deal, rather than afterwards.

It is now likely that legislation will be prepared for a debate in parliament as early as next week in order that the government can proceed as planned on triggering Article 50 by the end of March.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright, speaking on behalf of the government outside the Supreme Court, said “the government is disappointed with the outcome” of the judgement, but it will do everything it can “to comply with it”.

He said the court made clear it was not trying to reverse the Brexit decision, but added that it will now “be a political matter and not a legal matter”.

Brexit Secretary David Davis is expected to make a statement in Parliament today.

The SNP welcomed the decision and has vowed to put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to UK government legislation.

The 50 amendments include:

– A call on the UK government to publish a White Paper before invoking Article 50 – as recommended by the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union.

 – That the UK government must seek unanimous agreement of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) that the triggering of Article 50 encompasses the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

– There should be agreement with the European Commission that any failure of the UK Parliament to ratify the final terms of negotiation will result in a revision of the current terms of UK membership.

SNP International Affairs spokesperson, Alex Salmond, speaking from Strasbourg at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 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.”

UKIP member Suzanne Evans said if either house decides to vote against the will of the people it will trigger a General Election.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake says there should be a second vote on the terms of the deal and if his party does not get that, it will be voting against triggering Article 50.

Market reaction

The pound fell on the ruling, suggesting that the markets see the ruling as easing the route to the Brexit decision. Sterling was trading 0.09% lower against the dollar at $1.25. It was also down 0.03% against the eueo at €1.16. The FTSE 100 rose 0.4% immediately afterwards and was barely moved at the close, just 0.84 points lower at 7,150.84.

David Lamb, head of dealing at Fexco Corporate Payments, said:  “Rarely do the currency markets get so engrossed by legal argument – but today every clause sent anxious ripples across trading desks.

“While the markets had correctly predicted the government’s defeat in the Supreme Court, many were taken unawares by the scale of the mountain that Theresa May must now climb – and by the size of the Scottish spanner being placed in the works.

“Though the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Scottish government’s attempt to be formally consulted on the triggering of article 50, the Scottish National Party has set itself on a collision course with the Westminster government over Brexit.

“With the Labour Party calling for amendments and the Lib Dems pledging to vote against article 50, it’s clear that the government faces a rocky road ahead.”

Gina Miller

Investment fund manager Gina Miller (above), who challenged the government, said: “Today 8 out of 11 Supreme Court Judges upheld the judgment handed down by the High Court last November. This case was one that went to the very heart of our constitution and how we are governed.

“Only Parliament can grant rights to the British people, and only Parliament can take them away.

“No Prime Minister or Government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged.  Parliament alone is sovereign.  This ruling today means the MPs we have elected, will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the Government select the best course in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.  Negotiations that will frame our place in the wider world, and shape all our destinies for decades to come.

“There is no doubt that Brexit is the most divisive issue of a generation. But this case has been about legal process not politics.  Today’s decision has created legal certainty, based on our democratic process, and provided the legal foundations for the Government to trigger Article 50 in line with our constitution. 

“The Government’s exit plan will shape the country we want to live in and be a part of. As the Prime Minister said, we must have in mind the futures we want for our children and grandchildren. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who follow us, to ensure that the course we embark upon in the coming months and years is one we can be confident that history will judge us well for choosing.”

Ms Miller, who has suffered death threats and been forced to employ bodyguards, added: “I am sure everyone would agree that transparency and parliamentary scrutiny are vital components in this process and on the wider political stage.  Democracy, parliamentary sovereignty, the strength of our legal system and the independence of our judiciary: these are the things that make Britain Great. We should never lose sight of that.  

“It is now for Parliament to debate and vote on what is best for Britain and for the British people.   

“I want to express my gratitude to the Supreme Court, my legal team at Mishcon de Reya, Lord Pannick QC and my other Counsel who have all conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and thoughtfulness in the face of extraordinary and unprecedented criticism. 

“Lastly, I want to sincerely thank all those who have sent me heart-warming messages of support which have greatly bolstered me through this challenging process.” 

Ms Miller’s lawyer Mishcon de Reya said: “From the beginning, the purpose of this case was to ensure that the Government followed the correct constitutional process in triggering Article 50. Today 8 out of 11 Judges upheld the judgment of the High Court.

“As lawyers, we believe in the rule of law, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. This case has seen challenges to each of these principles we hold dear. We are proud that today the strength and primacy of those principles has been restated by the highest judges in the land.”

Separately, the home secretary Amber Rudd has effectively ruled out the possibility of Scotland being handed powers over immigration after the UK leaves the EU.

Further Scottish reaction:

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said:  “It’s clear now that this is a decision for the UK Parliament.

“Labour in the UK Parliament will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to get the best deal for Scotland within the UK.

Kezia Dugdale: (photo by Terry Murden)

“But both the SNP and the Conservatives are casting about for an expedient political position rather than working in the national interest. Unity cannot be achieved by a politics that sees one half of the country constantly facing off against the other.

“We are divided enough already. That’s why there will be no support from Scottish Labour for any SNP plan for a second independence referendum.

“Only Labour is standing up for what the majority of Scots want – a strong Scottish Parliament within the UK and close ties with Europe.”

Ruth Davidson (photo by Terry Murden)

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “The SNP tried to use this hearing to hold the rest of the UK to ransom. It has comprehensively failed to do so.

“All parties should now respect the ruling that the court has given.

“Yet typically, Nicola Sturgeon has decided to ignore it by stating – even before the verdict was in – that she would still seek a separate vote at Holyrood.

“The Scottish Conservatives will have no truck with yet more SNP stunts on Brexit.

“Whatever side people were on last year, Scotland wants to get on with the negotiations so we can start to leave the uncertainty of the last few years behind us.

“We have all had enough of the nationalists using every diversionary tactic they can to try to use Brexit to manufacture a case for separation.

“The SNP needs to decide: does it want Britain’s renegotiation to succeed or fail?

“If it is the former, it needs to end the attempts to sow division and add to the uncertainty we face, and instead get behind the UK attempt to get the right deal for the whole UK.”

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