The UK can unilaterally cancel Brexit without any changes to the terms of its membership, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed yesterday.
They confirmed the opinion of ECJ advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona that the UK could do so without approval from the EU’s 27 member states.
Their ruling is a victory for a coalition of British politicians opposed to Brexit who had brought the case, which was opposed by the UK and EU.
Although Sanchez-Bordona’s opinion was not legally binding, ECJ judges usually follow his advice in the majority of cases.
An ECJ statement said a member state could change its mind after activating the Article 50 process, which gave notice of intention to quit the EU.
It added that this remained valid for as long as a withdrawal agreement had not been signed, for the two-year length of the Article 50 process or for any extension of it.
Any decision to remain must follow ‘a democratic process’ said the judges, meaning it would have to be voted on and approved by Parliament.
If this did happen, the UK would then write to the EU confirming a decision that would be ‘unequivocal and unconditional.’
The ECJ said the timing of its announcement, on the day before MPs were due to vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, was to clarify the options open to MPs.
Today’s vote was called off by the Prime Minister hours later after it became clear that her deal would be voted down in Parliament by a large majority.
MPs from all parties confirmed they would vote against the deal, with the majority citing arrangements for the Northern Ireland backstop as their main objection.
The QC Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project which brought the case, described the ruling as ‘the biggest upset since the First Book of Samuel.’
He added “It is up to MPs to remember what they came into politics for and find the moral courage to put the country’s interests before private ambition.”
Maugham brought the case with a group of politicians and activists, including MPs, MSPs and MEPs from the Scottish National Party, Green Party and Labour.
They hope their ECJ victory will lead to Brexit being called off altogether, preferably by holding a decisive second referendum on the issue, a so-called ‘People’s Vote.’
But Environment Secretary Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that those pushing for a second vote wanted to overturn a democratic mandate.
Gove, a Brexiteer, added: “We don’t want to stay in the EU. We voted very clearly, 17.4 million people sent a clear message that we want to leave the European Union.”
“That means leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. So, this case is all very well, but it doesn’t alter the referendum vote.”
The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who originally backed Remain, said voters would be ‘very angry’ if the government delayed leaving the EU.