A week ago today, the prime minister invoked Article 50. The process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, following the EU referendum result last June, had begun. It took nine months to get to this point, but finally it felt like the will of the UK people would be acted upon.
The last nine months have not been easy. There was a major legal challenge to the Brexit process by elite Remainers, and led by Gina Miller. They took a case to the Supreme Court, arguing that Theresa May could not invoke Article 50 without a vote in parliament. The UK government contested, arguing that Article 50 could be invoked using the Royal Prerogative, a set of powers typically used by the prime minster without parliamentary approval. The claimants won that case, and so Theresa May had a vote in parliament. The House of Lords then tried to hold Brexit up by trying to amend the Article 50 bill. Eventually, the bill was passed.
Though the attempts to stop Article 50 being invoked were concerning, what was heartening was that the voice of the people, as expressed at the referendum, was a major presence throughout these battles. The vote stood as a weighty reminder that those in power work for us – the British people. The judges of the Supreme Court felt compelled to acknowledge that the referendum had significant political effect. As the Article 50 bill passed through parliament, MPs knew that the 17.4million people who voted Brexit were breathing down their necks.
But there is still a fight ahead of us. While the invocation of Article 50 represented a significant step towards the enactment of the biggest political mandate in British political history, we haven’t seen it through yet. We still have two years of negotiation ahead of us before the UK can actually leave the EU, and there are still legal challenges to the Brexit process which are yet to be resolved. While the remaining cases do not appear to have the legal merit of the Gina Miller case, they still stand to jeopardise Brexit.
The most prominent of these challenges is known as the Dublin case. This case was launched in Ireland by a UK tax lawyer. While the Gina Miller case at least purported to be seeking to resolve an important question of law (even if the real motivation, derailing Brexit, seemed clear all along), those backing the Dublin case have been explicit about their intentions. The claimant wrote on his blog that, if successful, the case would allow the UK to ‘reject the outcome of Article 50 negotiations and remain in the EU should the Brexit negotiations… yield a deal that was not acceptable to the UK parliament or British voters’.