Police attempt to keep rival Brexit protest groups from clashing in central London, Sunday Dec. 9, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Top EU court rules UK can change mind over Brexit

Britain voted in 2016 to leave the 28-nation bloc, triggering a two-year exit process

The European Union’s top court ruled Monday that Britain can change its mind over Brexit, boosting the hopes of people who want to stay in the EU that the process can be reversed.

The European Court of Justice ruled that when an EU member country has notified its intent to leave, “that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.”

Britain voted in 2016 to leave the 28-nation bloc, and invoked Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, triggering a two-year exit process.

Article 50 contains few details, in part because the idea of any country leaving was considered unlikely.

A group of Scottish legislators had asked the ECJ to rule on whether the U.K. can pull out of the withdrawal procedure on its own.

READ MORE: EU set to endorse Brexit deal but hard work lies ahead

The Luxembourg-based ECJ said that given the absence of any exit provision in Article 50, countries are able to change their mind in line with their own constitutional arrangements and that such a move “reflects a sovereign decision.”

The British government is free to do so as long as no withdrawal agreement has entered force.

A member state can also choose to change its mind in the case where no agreement has been reached, as long as the two-year time limit, including any transition period, has not expired.

Scotland’s constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell described the ruling as “hugely important.”

“People in Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU,” he said. “This judgment exposes as false the idea that the only choice is between a bad deal negotiated by the U.K. government or the disaster of no deal.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said the government will not seek to delay or reverse Brexit.

But the court’s opinion is another headache for the Conservative prime minister as she battles to win Parliament’s backing through a crucial vote scheduled for Tuesday for the divorce deal she has agreed with the EU.

British Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who helped drive the Brexit campaign, said the court ruling would have no real impact.

“We don’t want to stay in the EU … so this case is very well but it doesn’t alter the referendum vote or the clear intention of the government that we leave on March 29,” Gove told the BBC.

May, meanwhile, was scrambling to change lawmakers’ minds and stave off defeat.

The government insisted Monday that Tuesday’s vote will be held as scheduled, amid pressure to delay it to avoid a defeat that could sink May’s deal, her premiership, or both.

May’s government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties — as well as dozens of Conservative lawmakers — say they will not back the divorce deal that May and EU leaders agreed last month.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal keeps Britain bound too closely to the EU, while pro-EU politicians say it erects barriers between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner and leaves many details of the future relationship undecided.

The main sticking point is a “backstop” provision that aims to guarantee an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland post-Brexit. The measure would keep Britain under EU customs rules, and is supposed to last until superseded by permanent new trade arrangements. Critics say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

May and the EU both insist the withdrawal agreement can’t be changed. But May spoke over the weekend to European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, amid signs she is seeking to tweak the deal to win over skeptical lawmakers.

“Of course we can improve this deal, and the prime minister is seeking to improve this deal,” Gove said.

But, he warned, “by reopening it, there is a risk that we may not necessarily get everything that we wish for.”

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

Thousands filled Centennial Square in June for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
Survey seeks input on racism in Greater Victoria

Confidential answers to inform work with immigrants and marginalized people

International Bat Week runs from Oct. 24 to 31. (Photo: Cory Olson)
Time to get batty for International Bat Week

International Bat Week runs from Oct. 24 to 31

Black Press Media took to the streets of Colwood to find houses decorated for Halloween. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Check out these Colwood homes ready for Halloween

Halloween takes place on Saturday, Oct. 31

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Freighter drags anchor towards Boulder Point Oct. 22. It came within 730 metres of the shore, according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Most Read