The UK can unilaterally stop Brexit before the end of March 2019, the EU’s top court said on 10 December 2018. Pictured: The European Court of Justice, located in Kirchberg, seen in 2014. Photo credit: Shutterstock
The UK can singlehandedly stop its Article 50 notification that it wants to quit the EU, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
If Britain did revoke its notification, then the country would remain inside the bloc “under terms that are unchanged”, according to the EU’s top court.
The decision could influence the vote in Britain’s House of Commons on accepting or rejecting the Brexit deal negotiated between Brussels on London. The vote is currently scheduled to take place on Tuesday. The ECJ judgement allows a third option of staying inside the bloc, instead of the binary choice of accepting or rejecting the draft Brexit agreement.
The case stems from a petition to the Court of Session in Scotland filed by several Scottish elected officials. They asked the court if the UK could unilaterally stop the process of withdrawing from the union which is outlined in Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty.
The Court of Session then asked the ECJ if EU law allowed a country to change its mind during the two year notification period (which in the case of Britain ends on 29 March 2019).
The UK government had argued that the “question is inadmissible, given its hypothetical and theoretical (academic) nature, since there is no indication that the United Kingdom Government or Parliament are going to revoke the notification of the intention to withdraw,” according to court documents.
The European Commission and European Council argued the decision had to be taken unanimously by member state governments.
On Monday morning, the ECJ said members states are “free to revoke unilaterally” Article 50 notification” according to a court press release. The ECJ said:
“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 decision “must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements” and communicated in writing to the European Council. The country’s status within the EU would be unchanged under European law, the judges stated.
The EU27 governments need not give their unanimous consent to stop Brexit, since that would deprive the UK of its sovereignty and could force the country to leave the EU “against its will”, the ECJ said.
The Scottish court will have to rule on whether or not the matter is “hypothetical and theoretical”, the ECJ ruled.
Last week Campos Sánchez-Bordona, an advocate general at the ECJ, said in a preliminary opinion that Article 50 itself “states that a member state which decides to withdraw is to notify the European Council of ‘its intention’--and not of its decision--to withdraw”. The two year period also serves as a “cooling off period”, he wrote.
The case will return to Edinburgh for final adjudication.
The case is number C-621/18 (Wightman and Others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union).