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ECJ to give crucial Brexit ruling on eve of vote on May’s deal

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg where judges heard a legal challenge from anti-Brexit campaigners (Reuters)

The EU’s top judges will deliver their ruling on whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 on the eve of the ‘meaningful vote’ over the Brexit deal in the Commons, it has been revealed.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has announced its ruling on the case brought by pro-EU politicians will be delivered at 10am GMT on December 10.

That’s just a day before MPs vote on whether or not to accept the Brexit deal brokered by prime minister Theresa May and EU leaders last month.

It would deliver a timely boost to anti-Brexit campaigners if judges rule, as expected, that the UK could cancel its intention to leave without the EU’s permission.

The urgency with which the ruling will be delivered, which is unusual for the court, has seen it accused of acting politically.

Former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell said the ruling “is clearly timed to put pressure on UK politicians to fold – so much for a neutral judicial body.”

Jolyon Maugham QC, who is representing the politicians behind the legal challenge, said the point of case was to ensure MPs had all the information they needed before voting on the deal

The ECJ issued a statement explaining that the case was being fast-tracked “in light of the urgency of the issue in terms of parliamentary consideration and voting.”

It is expected that judges will rule in favour of the case because they usually follow the lead of the EU’s advocate general, who published a legal opinion earlier this week supporting the UK’s right to cancel Brexit.

At a hearing in Luxembourg last week, lawyers representing the UK government and European Union both argued that the case should be rejected.

The EU’s legal team argued that allowing the UK to unilaterally withdraw Article 50 would be a “disaster” for the European project because other countries could exploit the precedent in a bid to win better membership terms without having a real intention to leave.

READ MORE: EU and UK join forces against Brexit legal challenge

The EU’s top lawyer argued the UK should need the unanimous support of EU member states to revoke Article 50, saying: “The prerogative of acting alone will have been exhausted by putting the notification letter on the council’s table.”

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay made the same argument when asked about the impending judgement.

“If someone could revoke in essence they could go to the last day of a judgement and then revoke and retrigger the process,” he said.

“That would make a mockery of the two-year period of Article 50 and that is why we don’t think that is the right position.”

However, the EU’s advocate general said not allowing a country to unilaterally withdraw Article 50 “increases the risk of the member state leaving against its will.”

The case has been brought by a cross-party group of pro-EU politicians from Scotland, including Britain’s longest serving MEP David Martin, with the support of  £200,000 in donations.

After early setbacks in the Scottish courts, the case was finally referred to the ECJ in September and the UK government’s attempts to have that decision overturned failed.