What is the background?
Prime Minister Theresa May wants to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal step to begin proceedings to break with Brussels.
It comes after the UK voted to break with Brussels in a referendum on June the 23rd.
However, after a campaign by pro-EU campaigners, the UK’s High Court ruled at the start of November that leaving is a decision that can only be taken by the country’s parliament.
So what happened after that?
The government appealed the High Court’s decision to the next authority up – the UK’s Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has set aside four days for the hearing – from December the 5th to the 8th.
Will the hearing last all four days?
It looks like it, yes.
The Supreme Court said the exact duration and timings of the appeal hearing will depend on:
- further submissions on the precise legal arguments to be considered
- the number of contributors
- whether any other cases are linked to this one
However, it has said at this stage it expects the hearing to last all four days from December the 5th.
Unusually, the Supreme Court has said all 11 of its judges will sit on the appeal panel, which will be chaired by its president, Lord Neuberger. It is that important.
When will we know the decision?
Probably not until the New Year.
This is when the Supreme Court is likely to make its ruling known on whether the government requires parliamentary approval before launching the formal process of leaving the EU.
There is not expected to be an immediate decision.
“Judgement will be reserved at the conclusion of that hearing and follow at a later date, probably in the New Year,” the Supreme Court said in a statement.
What happens if the appeal fails?
The government will face the prospect of weeks, or perhaps months, of delays as parliament debates when and how to launch negotiations on the terms of Brexit.
Would this affect Theresa May’s timetable?
It casts further doubt on the UK prime minister’s proposed timetable.
The government has insisted since the High Court ruling that it was sticking to its target of triggering Article 50 by the end of next March.
What has the government said?
The government says it is focused on the Supreme Court appeal.
It is confident it has strong legal arguments to overturn the High Court judgement.
What about Northern Ireland and Scotland?
The vote to leave the EU has stirred political tension among the four nations of the United Kingdom – England and Wales, which voted by a majority to leave the UK, and Northern Ireland and Scotland, which voted to remain.
An attempt by an activist in Northern Ireland to block Britain’s exit from the EU has been referred to the Supreme Court after it was rejected by Belfast’s High Court.
Belfast’s Court of Appeal has ruled that the contention that the people of Northern Ireland should have sole sovereignty on deciding their future within the EU should be decided by the Supreme Court.
A parallel case against Brexit by several members of Northern Ireland’s regional assembly has also been referred to the Supreme Court by a High Court order.
It comes after an appeal by Northern Ireland’s attorney general.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s most senior lawyer will be allowed to address December’s Supreme Court hearing.
The Lord Advocate of the Scottish government will be allowed to address the relevance of Scots law in the hearing.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said triggering Article 50 will “deprive Scotland of rights and freedoms it currently enjoys”.