The UK Could Revoke Brexit, Europe’s Top Court Says

As the disarray of the UK leaving the European Union continues, a European top court has issued an opinion saying that the UK can halt Brexit without needing to renegotiate a deal.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling on December 10 in which the Luxembourg-based court found that the UK could decide to reverse Brexit without the approval of the 27 other Member States. It could retain the membership and all the associated benefits and responsibilities it had prior to the 2016 Leave vote, which triggered of what is known as Article 50.

The court found that where the leave mechanism enshrined in Article 50 is concerned, “that article allows that Member State — for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between that Member State and the European Union has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded,” that a Member State can “revoke that notification unilaterally, in an unequivocal and unconditional manner, by a notice addressed to the European Council in writing, after the Member State concerned has taken the revocation decision in accordance with its constitutional requirements.”

It is the word “unilateral” which is perhaps most important here, meaning that any member of the Union could decide to leave and then, in good faith, change its mind and stay in the Union.

The ECJ ruling continues that revocation means the EU, in this circumstance, must ensure the Member State’s terms of membership are “unchanged” and that this decision to revoke the withdrawal process is thereby concluded.

Brought by the Good Law Project and several Scottish parliamentarians, the decision was expedited to tie with a key House of Commons vote this week on the Brexit deal. Following announcement of the ruling, Prime Minister Theresa May put back that vote, much to the consternation of many ministers.

What does this ruling mean for Brexit?

For the moment it changes nothing, but it opens a door that previously the government had sought to keep barred.

The ruling is carefully considered in that, while it allows for Britain to make a “unilateral” decision to stay in the EU, it guards against a Member State using Article 50 as a means of leverage in negotiation for a better deal. By returning a country to the legal benefits and responsibilities it had prior to the notice to leave the EU, the court has shielded the EU body from politically-motivated attempts to exploit the system.

There are still some legal details that remain up in the air, however.

For one thing, it isn’t immediately clear what a “revocation decision” would look like under UK law. There wouldn’t need to be another referendum, contrary to the Leave campaign’s assertions. The referendum process was only advisory, but as a vote to trigger Article 50 was required, it seems prudent to say another majority vote in Parliament may be necessary. Whether there would need to be an act of Parliament to underpin that vote still remains open for debate.

This, the government says, is all academic, however. There will be no wavering on Brexit, despite the looming prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a satisfactory deal.

“We voted very clearly – 17.4 million people sent a clear message that they wanted to leave the European Union,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the Guardian. “And that also means leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. So this case is all very well, but it doesn’t alter either the referendum vote or the clear intention of the government to make sure that we leave on 29 March.”

The UK’s Prime Minister has used the threat of a potential “no-deal” Brexit — which analysts say would be the worst outcome for the UK — to try to convince MPs to back her deeply unpopular agreement with the EU. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the government’s lawyers had petitioned the ECJ not to rule in this case, presumably to try and reinforce the idea that it was either Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit or no deal at all.

Interestingly, the European Council and the European Commission had also sought to prevent this ruling. They argued that, in order for a country to remain in the EU after the leave process has begun, it must gain the consent of other Member States.

While the government may believe that this court decision changes nothing, those seeking to stay in the EU have been quick to seize on it as confirmation that not only is it possible to remain in the EU without having to reenter under Article 49, it would be preferable to enduring a no-deal Brexit where the UK is cast adrift with no say in how the EU treats it.

People’s Vote campaigner Dame Margaret Beckett, who believes there should now be a second referendum, told the Independent ”confirmation that it is still up to us to decide whether we want to keep the existing deal we’ve got in the EU rather than accept a bad deal negotiated by the government. What has happened in the last week is that any prospect of no deal has been removed by amendments allowing parliament to take control, while we now all know beyond any doubt that we can stay in the EU – it’s not too late.”

One thing is clear: this puts even more pressure on the UK government, who has found delivering a Brexit deal that satisfies even a majority of Parliament a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Take Action

This ruling is yet another reason to take a second look at the leave decision. This summer, the Electoral Commission found that Vote Leave broke the law during its campaign. The group also obstructed the investigation into its misconduct. Join over 21,000 Care2 members and sign this petition demanding a halt to Brexit a revocation of Article 50.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.


berny p
berny p6 months ago

Brexit was ,is and will be a very idea as many people will pay a very heavy price for it but then the people who had preach for it have enough money not to be concerned by it and their finances in ,,,ireland!!!!!!!

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 months ago

Julia Waller
3 occasions???? See my response to Ian T. If you want to stop cruelty to animals it has to be a Europe-wide movement. The European democratic voice, not just the British one.

Dan B
Thanks! It was the second of the three categories that was duped by Farage et al.

hELEN h7 months ago

I hope we can.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld7 months ago

Annabel B.,
Thank you. Nice synopsis.

Julia W
Julia Waller7 months ago

The only way to stop the cruel live animal export trade from Britain is for us to have a clean break from the EU. The people have spoke on 3 occasions now & it is time for our recalcitrant politicians to act on our instructions otherwise there is no point of striving for our democracy..

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 months ago

Ruth G
Sorry, me again. Yes to what you say but don't forget the Eastern European workers all paid their taxes so contributed largely to the NHS. One of the lies spread by Farage was that they came to exploit the health service. Not so!!!!!

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 months ago

Of course I meant 'by' not 'be'!

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 months ago

Ian T
If you really want to stop cruelty against animals in the E.U. you need to work WITHIN the structure, not walk away from it. You think it's ok for the UK to isolate itself from this problem and be virtuous all by itself, knowing the cruelty continues on the Continent? So much for loving animals! No, the way to go is to put public pressure on all European governments to put an end to cruelty, something that can only be done be collaboration, not isolation.

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 months ago

It's useful to remember that nobody expected the Leave vote to win. Cameron called the referendum to placate the right wing of his Conservative Party and then ran a lackadaisical campaign because he underestimated the power of the Leave rhetoric. The breakdown of the Leave vote showed three distinct categories: the nostalgic oldies, the less educated, mostly of the ex-industrial North (against Eastern European immigration, Polish having become the second language in various areas) and a big percentage who did not necessarily want to leave the EU but voted Leave simply as a protest vote against Cameron and his policies. The great absentees were the young, ironically those most to be affected by leaving the E.U., who didn't bother to vote because Remaining was a foregone conclusion.

Renata B
Now the European Court has ruled that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50 I'd say that's the way to go. A second referendum would be yet another upheaval which the country does not need. Imagine having Farage on the war-path again uuugggghhhhh!

Shirley S
Shirley S7 months ago

Noted with perplexity .