The Constitutional Case for Making the Article 50 TEU Notification
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In a referendum held on June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted in favour of leaving the European Union. For the first time since its creation in the Lisbon Reform Treaty of 2009, art. 50 TEU will probably now be invoked by the UK for the withdrawal process from the EU, envisaged by the outcome of the referendum, to commence. Article 50 TEU requires that national constitutional arrangements exist so that notification on withdrawal can be made to the European Council. Curiously, to date, the biggest consequence of the referendum outcome has not been the creation of a debate about the role of EU law in the UK legal order, but rather the separation of powers within the UK’s unwritten constitution and which organ of state has authority to activate the art. 50 TEU withdrawal: Parliament or the Executive. The debate has spawned dozens of constitutional blog posts, numerous academic articles, a High Court judicial review of the Government’s position, a second draft independence bill published by the Scottish Government and a judicial review before the Northern Irish Court of Appeal. On one side of the debate, the Government maintains that it alone possesses the Royal Prerogative to ratify and withdraw from international treaties, and thus to make the notification of withdrawal. On the other hand, Parliament and the ’Bremainers’ maintain that any unilateral action by the Government exceeds its authority, and Parliament must provide authorisation; a position which could ultimately result in the referendum outcome being ignored and the UK remaining a Member State. In a third corner, the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, two countries within the UK whose electorates voted to remain in the EU, demand a voice in both the decision to leave and in the subsequent negotiations with the EU institutions (note, however, that the status of the devolved administrations will not be addressed in this article, as the issue is considered by the author as being too unclear in the absence of any judicial statement on matters of devolution and institutional hierarchy, including but not limited to the limitations imposed on the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty by the Sewel Convention). The judgment of the High Court has not yet been published, and even if it were there will inevitably be an appeal to the Supreme Court, so it is only possible to speculate on what will happen, but this article intends to provide clarity on the legal principles currently under discussion in the most important constitutional discussion to happen in the UK since it joined the EU in 1973.
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