UK can unilaterally cancel Brexit, rules EU top court

Brussels, Dec 10: The UK can unilaterally cancel its withdrawal from the EU without the permission of the other 27 bloc members, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Monday, a day ahead of a crucial vote in the country's lower house of Parliament on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan.

The ruling is likely to give fresh impulse to calls for a second Brexit referendum before May submits her draft deal to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

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The MPs are widely expected to reject her proposal, reports said.

The court in a statement said: "When a member state has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU, as the UK has done, that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification."

"That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that member state has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired," stated the ruling tweeted by the court.

The judges ruled that this could be done without altering the terms of Britain's membership. The court rejected arguments from both the UK government and the European Commission that Article 50, the two-year-long process that triggers a member state's departure from the EU, could not be revoked unilaterally.

The case was brought to the ECJ by a cross-party group of Scottish lawmakers.

The court ruling matched legal advice given to the court last week by its Advocate General Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona, who said as a sovereign country Britain could reverse its decision even at this stage.

This legal decision is significant because it means Britain could prevent a no-deal Brexit from happening if it wanted, even if May's deal is voted down by MPs.

May, whose Conservative Party executive wields a minority in the Commons, enacted Article 50 on March 29, 2017, meaning the UK is due to withdraw from the EU on March 29, 2019, with or without a deal.

Some 52 per cent of the UK electorate voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, although regions like Scotland and Northern Ireland backed remain.

May lost her majority in snap elections she called in June 2017 in a bid to consolidate her Brexit mandate.