UK 'may unilaterally withdraw from Brexit'

Britain may unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw from Brexit if it wishes, says a top official of the European Court of Justice.

The Advocate General gave his – highly influential but non-binding – decision today that the UK may cancel article 50 if it chooses to.

According to British barrister Jolyon Maugham, one of the petitioners in the 'Wightman case', this is a crucial point as if this was not the case then any cancellation (such as following a ‘People’s Vote’ or a general election or a decision by British MPs) could depend on the agreement of the other EU leaders who might decide to set conditions such as the UK giving up various opt-outs.

The opinion has been published following the referral of a question to the ECJ from Scotland's top court. The UK government had appealed against the referral, saying the question was purely hypothetical as there is no prospect of the UK government or MPs asking to cancel Brexit. The AG said on the contrary the issue had "obvious practical importance".

Mr Maugham said in a statement today: “This puts the decision about our future back in the hands of our own elected representatives, where it belongs. On this critical issue I’m sure MPs will now search their consciences and act in the best interests of the country.”

The AG proposed that the court should agree that article 50 allows for unilateral revocation within the two-year period from the notification of the intention to leave (that took place on March 29, 2017) and that this possibility remains until such a time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded and as long as the revocation is decided upon in accordance with the UK’s constitutional requirements and is formally notified to the European Council.

The court is expected to give its final and official ruling on this matter in the next few weeks.

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