Britain's High Court throws a wrench in Brexit plans

Theresa May may have to change her Brexit plans
(Image credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Britain's High Court ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May doesn't have the power to trigger Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, as she planned to do by March 31, 2017. Instead, the court ruled, Parliament must approve the activation of Article 50 of the E.U. charter, which allows a country to withdraw from the union "in accordance with its own constitutional requirements." May argued that the prime minister can use the royal prerogative to withdraw, after Britons narrowly voted to leave last summer, but the senior judges disagreed, ruling that "the government does not have the power under the Crown's prerogative" to start Brexit talks.

The government is expected to appeal the ruling, the most important constitutional challenge in decades. The royal prerogative, originally and officially held by the Queen, is used by British prime ministers to negotiate treaties, declare war, and do more mundane things like issue passports without votes in Parliament. Using those powers to strip rights from U.K. citizens, as leaving the E.U. would, impinges on Parliament's sovereignty, said the chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and "the most fundamental rule of the U.K. constitution is that Parliament is sovereign." The Supreme Court has set aside room for an appeal next month.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.