Does the UK Government have Legal Grounds to revoke Brexit?


To understand whether Brexit can be revoked unilaterally by the UK Government, we need to revisit what caused Brexit. British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 (Lisbon Treaty), that binds EU nations. Revoking means that the timer on Brexit negotiations to leave EU by March 2019 would stop, thus enable UK to remain in EU and effectively end Brexit. However, the legal text contained in Article 50 does not state whether the UK Government can unilaterally revoke Brexit.

Revoking Brexit can be a success to a certain point-surpassing that point is out of hands of the UK Government but on the hands of European Court of Justice (ECJ). When Theresa May revealed that withdrawal negotiations between EU and UK had reached an impasse, Members of Parliament referred to a preliminary reference as to whether revoking withdrawal notification was legally valid under Withdrawal Act of EU. They argued it is possible to revoke the withdrawal notification from EU. However, their argument depends on the interpretation of Article 50 by ECJ. Assuming the court interprets the provisions in their favor, UK will have the power to cancel Brexit without seeking approval from other member nations.

Arguments for UK revocation of Brexit

Pros of UK revocation believe the UK Government has legal grounds to do so. Some argue that the burden of proof is on other member states to demonstrate that Article 50 of the Treaty excludes unilateral revocation of a State. In their view, it is simpler to allow a nation to stop the entire withdrawal process on its own rather than subjecting it to readmission procedure through approval.

Arguments Against UK revocation of Brexit

Professor Weatherill of Oxford University argued that Article 50 cannot be revoked unilaterally. He argued that even though the Article is ”silent” on unilateral revocation, its purpose and structure should remain intact. From his point of view, the member nations of EU should have the privilege when negotiating with the withdrawing nation. The interests of EU members should be at the forefront and protected.

The capacity of UK to revoke its withdrawal notification would tip the scale in its favor. A key policy argument against allowing a nation to revoke its withdrawal notification once it decides to leave EU is that it can abuse the clause through issuing a new notification to withdraw indefinitely. It is also free to leave EU anytime it pleases.

The legal text has been subjected to various interpretations by legal specialists, from Manchester law firm experts to others around the UK. Some experts claim if the UK Government does not have the power to revoke Brexit, it is highly unlikely that the 27-member nations of EU would allow UK to remain in EU- the Union would have wasted two years negotiating a deal with a nation that was not ready to leave.

In conclusion, the UK Government has no legal grounds to revoke Brexit because there is no preliminary reference that provides for reversing a withdrawal notification from EU unilaterally. It will depend on the ruling of ECJ as to whether UK can revoke Brexit unilaterally or seek approval from other EU member nations.

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