Britain can unilaterally stop Brexit process, EU lawyers say
By Matt Wells and James Masters, CNN
London (CNN)The British government has the power to unilaterally halt the Brexit process, a top EU legal adviser has said.
In an opinion prepared for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Strasbourg, the advocate general said the UK could stop the two-year legal countdown invoked under Article 50.
The UK had argued that the Article 50 notification could only be withdrawn with the agreement of all 27 remaining EU member states.
Announcing his decision Tuesday, Advocate General Campos Sanchez-Bordona declared that Article 50 “allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU.”
Judges must now decide whether to accept the advocate general’s advice, as they do in most cases.
If they do, it gives the UK parliament another way in which to force the government’s hand. With only 16 weeks to go before the Article 50 deadline on March 29, options are running out if parliament rejects Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Here's a statement from me on the Advocate General's Opinion in the Article 50 case, in which I am a petitioner. pic.twitter.com/WkOKWqlDB7
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) December 4, 2018
The case was originally brought in Scotland by a group of anti-Brexit campaigners. Scotland’s top court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh, had referred it to Strasbourg for a ruling. The case was fiercely opposed by the British government, which unsuccessfully argued that the Supreme Court in London should intervene before the case went to Europe.
Jolyon Maugham, one of the petitioners in the case, welcomed the advocate general’s opinion, urging UK lawmakers to “search their consciences and act in the best interests of the country.”
“The decision is one that the UK can make unilaterally — without needing the consent of the other Member States. That puts the decision about our future back into the hands of our own elected representatives — where it belongs,” he wrote on Twitter.
Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general and second referendum supporter, told the BBC the decision by the advocate general was “clearly significant.”
“Of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be translated into a judgment, but the opinion of the advocate general is often very influential in forming the opinion of the court and it reinforces something I have to say I personally always thought was probably the case.”
Questioned as to whether the decision could lead to a second vote on EU membership, he added: “It is certainly helpful because it removes one of the arguments which is ‘Oh well, they would never allow us to change our minds’.”
The decision came on the day that Theresa May begins her quest to sell the Brexit deal to lawmakers in the House of Commons.
MPs will spend the next five days debating the deal before a vote next Tuesday, which May is widely expected to lose.
Before Tuesday’s debate begins, May could face another setback, when MPs vote on whether her government should be held in contempt of parliament for failing to publish the full legal advice on her deal.