Brexit in disarray: The Statesman

A British Union flag in front of the Bank of England in London on Nov 2, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A constitutional crisis has gripped Britain, one that was scarcely anticipated on June 23 when the people voted in favour of the country's exit from the European Union, however marginally.

Plans for Brexit are palpably in disarray and Prime Minister Theresa May has without question suffered a severe blow to her authority with Thursday's High Court ruling that Parliament must have its say.

The judges have ruled that "Article 50 cannot be triggered without the MPs' backing".

The subtext of the ruling by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, must be that it is the embodiment of the people's will - more than the referendum and the Conservative government's follow-through -that must have the final say.

Theoretically, the executive, in the fountain-head of libertarian democracy, will have to reflect on the essay towards the symbolic retreat from Europe.

In the immediate perspective, it is the judiciary and the legislature that are set to have their way.

The Bench has made it pretty obvious that parliamentary approval and legislation are required for a fundamental change - relating to whether Brexit attains fruition.

"The most fundamental rule of the UK Constitution is that Parliament is sovereign.

The government does not have power under the Crown's prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 for the UK to withdraw from the European Union," was the resounding observation of the Lord Chief Justice.

Having reaffirmed the sovereignty of Parliament, the court has abided by the certitudes of the constitutional engagement through a judgment that signifies a new chapter in Britain's constitutional history.

The going will not be as smooth as envisaged in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, buttressed by David Cameron's prompt resignation, and the entry of the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street.

It is early days to speculate whether plans for Brexit will flounder, after all. Suffice it to register that unless the High Court ruling is overturned in the Supreme Court on appeal, Thursday's order might throw the government's plans for Brexit into disarray; the process has now been made subject to parliamentary concurrence.

Remarkably balanced was the response of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn - "This ruling underlines the need for the government to bring its negotiating terms to Parliament without delay. There must be transparency and accountability to Parliament on the terms of Brexit."

Ergo, it is the conjunction of the three organs of democracy that is pivotal in the overall construct.

The unanimous ruling by the three judges might undermine the Prime Minister's authority in conducting negotiations with other EU states in preparation for the UK's withdrawal.

For now, Theresa May is in crisis at the threshold; the damp English winter is already under a cloud.
The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.

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