Eurosceptics are up in arms today following the High Court’s ruling that Theresa May would have to seek Parliamentary approval before she can trigger Brexit by invoking Article 50. “A great betrayal is underway”, Nigel Farage wrote in this morning’s Telegraph. “It was a mistake for the courts to intervene on such a huge political issue,” Philip Johnson said. Iain Duncan Smith accused the judges – Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales – of risking a “constitutional crisis” by “pitting Parliament against the will of the people”.
The Attorney General is already under pressure to resign after losing the High Court case, with Tory MPs saying that Jeremy Wright should be replaced by a more experienced lawyer. The Government has already pledged to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, although an insider told this newspaper that ministers are resigned to losing the case. If this happens, ministers are preparing an Act of Parliament on the triggering of Article 50, which would mean that both the Commons and Lords would be able to debate, amend and vote on it before it is invoked. This process could end up delaying Brexit by a year, as Europhile MPs are already planning how to exploit it. George Osborne and Nicky Morgan have already indicated that they would seek to use it to force Mrs May to reveal in the Commons her plans for Brexit, despite her prior refusal to “show her cards” before starting formal negotiations.
There are 17.4 million reasons why they won’t try to throw out the bill in the hopes of stopping Brexit, and they’re called voters. But that won’t stop them trying to table amendments to water down the type of Brexit Parliament goes on to approve. Hillary Benn has already admitted that he would approve Article 50 in a vote, but hinted that his fellow Europhiles could target “what we should be seeking in negotiations”. If they succeed, Mrs May could be forced to trigger an early general election in order to increase her majority in the Commons. “If we get to the stage where [MPs] are not willing to allow this negotiation to even begin,” Dominic Raab warned, “I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again.” One minister said that Mrs May and her closest advisers are “completely against” calling an early general election, but could this change?
The Government seems quietly optimistic about its chances in a vote on Article 50, as Sajid Javid told BBC’s Question Time last night that it could win such a vote next week if necessary. But how would it fare in the Lords? Europhile peers could try and obstruct the bill without having to worry about voters, but Eurosceptic MPs are already onto them. Jacob Rees-Mogg suggests in today’s paper that the 1911 Parliament Act may be needed to ram the bill through the Lords, or the Government could create “a thousand new peers to overcome the Remain majority in the Upper House”.
In the meantime Theresa May is talking to Jean Claude-Juncker today to make clear to him that the High Court ruling won’t stop her from taking Britain out of the European Union. You can follow what happens today on our liveblog here. “In Brussels, the court verdict has been widely interpreted as the first step in the undoing of Britain’s plebiscite,” Dan Hannan warns. The Prime Minister won’t let judges take her off course.