Legislation 'within days' to enshrine British Government’s timetable on Article 50
Legislation will be introduced "within days" to ensure the British Government can stick to its timetable of triggering the process of leaving the European Union by the end of March, Brexit Secretary David Davis has told MPs.
Mr Davis said the Government's defeat in a historic court battle over Brexit in the UK’s Supreme Court would not derail Theresa May's timetable to kick off the two-year process of withdrawal negotiations.
He said the Supreme Court ruling did not affect the fact Britain will be leaving the EU in line with the result of the 2016 referendum, telling MPs: "There can be no turning back.”
"The point of no return was passed on June 23 last year."
By a majority of eight to three, judges at the Supreme Court in London rejected the British Government's argument the Prime Minister could use prerogative powers to kick off the talks under Article 50, ruling instead it must first seek Parliament's approval.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Davis said this would be done by means of "the most straightforward Bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the Supreme Court's judgment".
The purpose of the bill will be "simply to give the Government the power to invoke Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union", he said.
He added: "Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this legislation but I trust no-one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people or frustrate or delay the process of exiting the European Union."
Mr Davis said: "This is not about whether or not the UK should leave the EU.”
"That decision has already been made by the people of the United Kingdom.”
"We will work with colleagues in both Houses to ensure this Bill is passed in good time for us to invoke Article 50 by the end of March."
With Labour declaring it will not frustrate the invocation of Article 50, there was little doubt the Prime Minister can get a bill through Parliament.
But she risks having her hands tied in negotiations by any conditions inserted by MPs into the legislation, with the Scottish National Party declaring it will table 50 "serious and substantive" amendments.
The highest court in the land rejected an appeal by ministers against a High Court judgment blocking their decision to begin Britain's exit from the European Union without Parliament having a say.
Giving a short summary of the court's findings, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said: "The issues in these proceedings have nothing to do with whether the UK should exit from the EU, or the terms or timetable for that exit."
Withdrawal from the EU would mean a "fundamental change" to the UK's laws by cutting off one of its sources, as well as changing the legal rights of British citizens, he said.
"The UK's constitutional arrangements require such changes to be clearly authorised by Parliament," said Lord Neuberger.
"Any change in the law to give effect to the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by an Act of Parliament.”
"To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries."
To relief in Downing Street, the Supreme Court judges unanimously rejected the argument that Mrs May must also consult devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before triggering Article 50.
Attorney General Jeremy Wright - who led the Government's legal fight - said ministers were "disappointed" by the ruling, but added: "The Government will comply with the judgment of the court and do all that is necessary to implement it."
Downing Street said the Government respected the Supreme Court's decision.
"The British people voted to leave the EU, and the Government will deliver on their verdict - triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March," said a spokesman. "Today's ruling does nothing to change that.
"It's important to remember that Parliament backed the referendum by a margin of six to one and has already indicated its support for getting on with the process of exit to the timetable we have set out."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would not "frustrate the process for invoking Article 50" but would seek to amend the legislation to prevent the UK becoming a "bargain-basement tax haven".
"Labour is demanding a plan from the Government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given parliamentary approval," said Mr Corbyn.
The SNP's Alex Salmond confirmed plans to table multiple amendments, adding: "If Theresa May is intent on being true to her word that Scotland and the other devolved administrations are equal partners in this process, then now is the time to show it."
The Liberal Democrats, who have just nine MPs but more than 100 peers, will vote against Article 50 unless there is a guarantee of the public having a vote on the final deal, said leader Tim Farron.
But Ukip leader Paul Nuttall warned MPs and peers not to hamper the passage of the legislation.
"The will of the people will be heard, and woe betide those politicians or parties that attempt to block, delay, or in any other way subvert that will," he said.
The Supreme Court ruling was welcomed by Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the case against the Government.
Speaking outside court, she told reporters: "This ruling today means that MPs we have elected will rightfully have the opportunity to bring their invaluable experience and expertise to bear in helping the Government select the best course in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations."
David Greene, the lawyer for the other claimant, pro-Brexit hairdresser Deir Dos Santos, said: "The court has decided that the rights attaching to our membership of the European Union were given by Parliament and can only be taken away by Parliament.
"This is a victory for democracy and the rule of law. We should all welcome it."
Gibraltarian Paul Cartwright, who was also an interested party in the case, also welcomed the result and vowed: “We are going to carry on pressurising MPs as it seems we are starting to turn the tide.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called for the Government to produce a formal White Paper setting out its Brexit plans, rather than relying on the Prime Minister's Lancaster House speech.
"You can't have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more," he said.
He hailed the judgment as a "good day for parliamentary sovereignty" but dismissed the Government's decision to take the case to the Supreme Court as a "waste of time and money".
Indicating that Labour would seek changes to the legislation, Sir Keir told MPs: "On issues as important as this it would be wrong for the Government to seek to minimise the role of Parliament and to avoid amendments."
Mr Davis denied the Government was afraid of publishing a Brexit White Paper.
He told broadcasters: "The public will wonder about this because the Prime Minister has laid out very clearly we want to be out of the single market but with access to it, out of the customs union but with a customs agreement, arrangements with respect to justice and home affairs, fulfilling our role on Europe across the board on security and so on."
The Brexit Secretary also rejected suggestions that MPs would be giving the Government a blank cheque if they backed triggering the Article 50 process.
Parliament will pass laws, debate the Great Repeal Bill and hold a "substantive" vote on the divorce settlement, he said.
"This is not just you have only got one choice at the end, you have absolutely got the right to information, influence, debate and vote all the way through."