The UK Supreme Court has ruled that prime minister Theresa May must get the approval of the UK parliament before she begins the process for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
However, the Supreme Court rejected arguments that the UK’s devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should be given a say on the issue.
The Supreme Court dismissed the UK government’s argument that the prime minister could use “royal prerogative” executive powers to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to formally begin two years of exit negotiations.
“The referendum is of great political significance, but the Act of Parliament which established it did not say what should happen as a result,” said David Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, which ruled 8-3 against the UK government.
“So any change in the law to give effect to the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by an Act of Parliament.”
May has stressed she plans to trigger Article 50 before the end of March but she will now have to seek the consent of the UK parliament first.
The Scottish National Party said its Westminster MPs will table 50 amendments to the Article 50 legislation.
The 50 amendments include a requirement that the UK government publishes a paper setting out its Brexit plan and seek the unanimous agreement of the devolved governments before triggering Article 50.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government welcomes the Supreme Court’s ruling that Article 50 cannot be triggered without an Act of Parliament.
“It is a damning indictment of a UK Government that believed it could press on towards a hard Brexit with no regard to parliament whatsoever.
“It is vital that the Westminster parliament is now given the fullest possible opportunity to debate and decide upon the triggering of Article 50 and also the terms of the UK’s negotiating position.
“SNP MPs will seek to work with others across the House of Commons to stop the march towards a hard Brexit in its tracks.
“We are obviously disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in respect of the devolved administrations and the legal enforceability of the Sewel Convention.
“It is now crystal clear that the promises made to Scotland by the UK Government about the Sewel Convention and the importance of embedding it in statute were not worth the paper they were written on.
“Although the court has concluded that the UK Government is not legally obliged to consult the devolved administrations, there remains a clear political obligation to do so.
“Indeed, the court itself notes the importance of Sewel as a political convention.
“The Scottish Government will bring forward a Legislative Consent Motion and ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to vote on whether or not it consents to the triggering of Article 50.
“We will also use the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee next week to continue to press for the sensible, compromise outcomes set out in the paper we published in December.
“However, it is becoming clearer by the day that Scotland’s voice is simply not being heard or listened to within the UK.
“The claims about Scotland being an equal partner are being exposed as nothing more than empty rhetoric and the very foundations of the devolution settlement that are supposed to protect our interests – such as the statutory embedding of the Sewel Convention – are being shown to be worthless.
“This raises fundamental issues above and beyond that of EU membership.
“Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster Government with just one MP here – or is it better that we take our future into our own hands?
“It is becoming ever clearer that this is a choice that Scotland must make.”