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

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

Ellis Ross (left), BC Liberal party, celebrated with his wife, Tracey after being named the preliminary winner of the 2020 snap provincial election.
Ross presumptive Skeena winner in snap B.C. election

Election outcome will not be official until mail-in ballots are counted

Voting has officially closed throughout B.C. for the 2020 snap provincial election. (Clare Rayment)
Map of Skeena polling stations

Watch the updates on the map below as polling stations are counted throughout Skeena riding

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

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

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

A heavy police presence was spotted in Lumby, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Facebook)
Police situation leads to ‘hold and secure’ at North Okanagan school

Police call for social media blackout in ongoing incident

École de l’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak forces closure of Kelowna school

The outbreak is the first within B.C.’s school system since classes resumed back in September

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

FILE – B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts owner, Senator David Braley speaks after the CFL announced Vancouver will host the 2014 Grey Cup championship football game during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Lions owner David Braley dead at 79

Braley had bought the CFL team prior to 1997 season

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks with the owner of a barber shop while campaigning in Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Campaigning was restricted by the coronavirus pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s B.C. majority came with historically low voter turnout

Barely half of eligible voters cast ballots in snap election

Most Read