British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a setback Tuesday when Britain’s supreme court ruled the government needs Parliament’s approval to begin the process of leaving the European Union.
"The Supreme Court rules that the government can not trigger Article 50 without an act of parliament authorizing it to do so," Supreme Court President David Neuberger said Tuesday.
May had hoped to begin the two-year process of disengaging from the EU in March by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. After the ruling, officials at Number 10 Downing Street said they would stick to their timetable.
IN PHOTOS: Reactions to supreme court decision
With a 72-percent turnout, voters in a June referendum opted by a 4-percent margin to leave the EU. They were asked a simple question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The referendum results were advisory and non-binding, however, and analysts say that opened up the matter to further challenges, both legal and political.
In its decision Tuesday, the court ruled that pulling out of the European Union would mean Britain’s domestic laws would have to be changed, and therefore Parliament would require a final say in what the laws would look like.
May’s government argued that its executive powers entitled it to withdraw from international agreements.
Britain’s leading opposition Labour Party on Tuesday said it would not stand in the way of Brexit, but instead would push to ensure that the government remained accountable to Parliament through the whole process.
“Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50,” tweeted Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 bill to prevent the Conservatives from using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven,” referring to key provisions of May’s Brexit plan unveiled last week.
Outside the Supreme Court in London’s Parliament Square, anti-Brexit demonstrators celebrated with EU flags and a small cake.
“Our prime minister thought, shamefully, that she had a mandate to impose on Parliament and to use her Conservative majority to take us out of Europe,” said Richard Kirker, an anti-Brexit demonstrator. “What the judges have done, is just reminded the government that that is not the way that this country is governed.”
Equally harsh words came from Brexit supporters.
“Today, democracy is only in name only. It doesn’t exist any longer,” said Herbert Crossman, a pro-Brexit demonstrator. “Now they got another vote against the wishes of the people, and I think that Brexit may be derailed somehow. This is what they were wishing for and I think they got their wish.”
In his frustration, Crossman looks to America and invokes U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. “The one thing I like about what he said, ‘America comes first, the rest can wait,’” Crossman said. “It’s a shame our spineless, boneless MPs don’t have the same attitude toward the UK.”