Supreme Court to Rule on Parliament's Role in 'Brexit'

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December 5, 2016

The highest court in the United Kingdom will weigh in soon on the next stage in the 'Brexit' saga.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a challenge to a lower court ruling from November 2016 that Parliament must voice its opinion before the country negotiates its release from the European Union. This release, commonly known as "Brexit," a melding of the words "Britain" and "exit," was the result of a June referendum that resulted in a slight majority of voters voicing their desire to leave the EU. The resulting victory for the Leave campaign had several downstream effects, one of the first immediate of which was the resignation of one of the Remain campaign's prime proponents, Prime Minister David Cameron. Home Secretary Theresa May was named Prime Minister and vowed to follow through on the referendum's result by the end of March 2017. Under the terms of the EU's Article 50, nations have up to two years to negotiate a departure from the organization; since its inception, the EU has not presided over the departure of a member. The U.K. has been a member of the EU since 1973.

The 11-member Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to a ruling of the High Court for England and Wales, which ruled that Parliament should have the final say and that the government's "prerogative powers" were not enough. Such powers have long been in the hands of the monarchs who have ruled in previous years; lesser versions of such executive powers have devolved to government ministers, including the Prime Minister.

The June referendum was non-binding, meaning that the government need not be bound by the results, but first Cameron and now May have said that the will of the people was demonstrated in the referendum and that the government can negotiate an EU exit without an act of Parliament. After enduring months of campaigning on both sides, voters went to the polls on June 23, and the result was about 52 percent of voters favoring an exit from the EU. That meant that nearly 48 percent, including many members of Parliament, voted to remain in the EU.

The Supreme Court, sitting with its full complement of judges for the first time since 1876, will hear a few days of arguments from both sides; a decision is expected in January.

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