Last week, in an 8-3 vote, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Theresa May must seek new legislation before starting negotiations to leave the EU—the so-called Brexit. The Prime Minister had argued that, in light of last June’s referendum in favor of Brexit, and pursuant to the Crown’s sole authority to make and withdraw from international treaties, she could commence negotiations without further legislative action. But the court held that withdrawing from the EU would effect a change in domestic law and that, under the British Constitution, the government may not take such action without parliamentary authorization. The June referendum in favor of Brexit was not legally binding; a new statute would be necessary.
The ruling was not unexpected. May’s Government already had prepared draft legislation, which it presented to Parliament a couple days after the decision came down. The legislation seems very likely to pass in some form. Although the Government resisted having to go to Parliament, undoubtedly because of the possibility of delaying tactics and other obstacles, on balance it seems a good thing. In the long run, Brexit will be seen as more legitimate if Parliament formally votes on it, with members of the Government and the opposition going on record.