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

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks with feds, province

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan resolute in support of northern B.C. pipeline

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

BREAKING: Kelowna RCMP to further investigate 12 sexual assault cases, create sexual assault unit

Recommendations come five months after it was revealed 40% of sexual assaults were deemed ‘unfounded’

Most Read