The advocate general of the European Court of Justice - which deals with EU law - has declared that the United Kingdom can withdraw Article 50 without consulting other member states.
Politicians on both sides of Britain's European Union membership debate oppose the agreement that May struck with the bloc - pro-Brexit ones because it keeps Britain bound closely to the European Union, and pro-EU politicians because it erects barriers between the United Kingdom and its biggest trading partner. Hindustan Times delivers the news across all social media platforms, on the web, and at your doorstep.
However, opposition leaders and even some Conservative MPs have criticised the decision to ignore a parliamentary vote, pointing to Cabinet sources who have anonymously briefed some of Britain's national dailies (including the Times) that the negative conclusions of the legal advice were the real reason that the government was avoiding releasing full details.
Under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon treaty, any member state can declare its intention to quit the union, a decision which for Britain comes into effect on March 29 next year. The possibility that the United Kingdom can go back on its decision will be alarming to Brexit hardliners and could encourage them to grudgingly support May's much-maligned roadmap for how the country should quit the bloc.
Two attempts by the United Kingdom government to appeal against the referral to the European court were rejected, and the case was opposed by the government and the EU institutions in a hearing before all 27 ECJ judges last week.
The advocate general's opinion follows the news that MPs had submitted an emergency motion of contempt in response to the government's refusal to publish the full Brexit legal advice. The Bank of England warned last week that a no-deal Brexit could plunge Britain into a severe recession.
Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona told the European Court of Justice that a British decision to revoke the countdown to departure would be legally valid.
It can only take place in the two-year period from the member state's formal notification of triggering Article 50 to the EU Council, where its peers meet, he added. Article 50 is scant on details - largely because the idea of any country leaving the bloc was considered unlikely - so a group of Scottish legislators asked the courts to rule on whether the United Kingdom can pull out of the withdrawal procedure on its own.
At the November 27 hearing before the full European Union court, lawyers for the lawmakers behind the case argued that legal certainty needs to come before politics and that the UK Parliament, which has the power to decide, needs to have certainty about the law.
A final verdict is expected within weeks.
May's spokesman, James Slack, said the opinion didn't change "the clear position of the government that Article 50 is not going to be revoked".
"That puts the decision about our future back into the hands of our own elected representatives - where it belongs", said Jo Maugham, one of the lawyers who brought the case. In such a scenario, a renegotiation of the existing deal, general election, second referendum and no-deal Brexit could all be possible outcomes.
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