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Brexit: European court to rule on legal case

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The case was heard by all 27 European judges last month

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is to rule on whether or not the UK can cancel Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members.

A group of anti-Brexit politicians and campaigners has argued that the UK should be able to unilaterally halt the Brexit process if it wants to do so.

Their case has been opposed by the UK government and the EU itself.

But a senior ECJ official said last week he agreed the UK should be able to change its mind about leaving.

The court will now deliver its final decision in the case, with the ruling expected to be published at about 08:00 on Monday.

It comes the day before the House of Commons is due to vote on the prime minister’s Brexit deal with the EU – with MPs widely expected to reject the proposals.

The campaigners hope victory in their legal case will increase the chances of Brexit being called off completely, potentially through another referendum.

This is because they believe it would send the message that MPs are not facing a choice between accepting Mrs May’s deal or leaving the EU with no deal, and that “there are other options, and we can stop the clock.”

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A group of politicians brought the case including (from top left) Catherine Stihler MEP; Joanna Cherry MP; David Martin MEP; (from bottom left) Alyn Smith MEP; Ross Greer MSP and Andy Wightman MSP

The case has been brought by a cross-party group of politicians including Scottish Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer, SNP MEP Alyn Smith and MP Joanna Cherry and Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler, who have been supported by Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project.

They received a major boost last week when one of the ECJ’s advocate generals, Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona, issued a statement which backed their position.

Mr Campos Sanchez-Bordona said it was his opinion that if a country decided to leave the EU, it should also have the power to change its mind during the two-year exit process specified in Article 50 of the EU treaty.

Crucially, he also said it should be able to do so without the consent of the other EU states.

Dangerous precedent

This was despite the EU warning during a previous court hearing that it would set a dangerous precedent by encouraging other countries to announce they are leaving in an attempt to secure better membership terms, before cancelling their withdrawal.

The opinion of an advocate general is not legally binding, but the court tends to follow their advice in the majority of cases.

The UK government’s lawyers have argued that the case is purely hypothetical as “the UK does not intend to revoke its notification”, and ECJ judges should therefore refuse to rule on it.

They have also claimed that the politicians behind it want to use the case as “political ammunition to be used in, and to pressure, the UK Parliament”.

The case was initially taken to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which ultimately agreed to pass it to the ECJ.

Two attempts by the UK government to appeal against the referral to the European court were rejected, and the case was heard by all 27 ECJ judges last month.

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