LUXEMBOURG • The European Union's top court ruled yesterday that the British government may reverse its decision to leave the bloc without consulting other member states, in a decision welcomed by those campaigning to stop Brexit.
In an emergency judgment delivered just a day before the British Parliament was due to vote on a Brexit deal agreed with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said: "The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU."
The ruling is in line with an opinion delivered last week by a Court legal adviser. That had boosted the hopes of British Brexit opponents that a new referendum could be held that would prevent Britain's scheduled departure on March 29 next year.
Mrs May faces heavy opposition in Parliament to her Brexit deal and was expected to address Par-liament yesterday amid reports that her government would postpone the vote.
Mr Alyn Smith, a Scottish nationalist member of the European Parliament and one of the Brexit opponents who raised the case seeking clarification of Article 50 of the EU treaty to the EU's Supreme Court in Luxembourg, said: "Today's ruling sends a clear message to UK MPs ahead of tomorrow's vote that there is a way out of this mess. A light at the end of the tunnel for the economy, for jobs and for the UK's standing on the world stage. Now, it is up to the UK.
"If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms."
Mrs May's Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who campaigned for Brexit, dismissed the ruling by repeating the government's insistence that it would not reverse its decision to leave.
The ECJ said in its statement that Britain should suffer no penalties if it halts the Article 50 process which Mrs May triggered last year after a June 2016 referendum: "Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the UK remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged."
EU leaders have long insisted they would welcome Britain changing its mind, but many EU officials and legal experts had believed that the approval of either all or most of the other 27 member states would be needed to halt Brexit altogether.
It is unclear, however, whether or how Britain could organise a new referendum, given the short time left until Brexit.