The government must consult parliament before it can trigger Article 50, a court has decided today. But what does that mean for Brexit?
Quickly remind me: who's involved in all of this?
The case was brought to court by a number of parties but the lead claimant is businesswoman Gina Miller. Basically, they were arguing that Article 50 should not be triggered without an Act of Parliament in place.
So no more lawyers after today?
Not quite. The government could still appeal today's decision, and has already vowed to do as much. In fact, an appeal was deemed so likely for this case that a leapfrog process, whereby the case will skip the Court of Appeal and go straight to the Supreme Court, was put in place over the summer. That means the case could be in the highest court in the country by December, long before the March 2017 deadline Prime Minister Theresa May has already given for starting the process.
And then to the European Court of Justice?
That's not as likely, as cases are only referred there when the meaning of a piece of European law is in question. Although this is referred to as the Article 50 case, it's not Article 50 itself that's in dispute, as that states a member state to leave the EU provided its within the rules of its own constitution. The issue here revolves around what the UK's unwritten constitution actually requires.
As for the Article 50 timeline, what does this case mean?
Although government has said it will be pushing ahead with its previously stated deadline, today's result could throw a spanner in the works, as new legislation can take a while to get through parliament.
"On the face of it, this means that the Brexit question will now likely require debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, meaning another airing of the arguments for and against leaving the EU," said Hazel Moffat, litigation & regulatory partner at DLA Piper. "The Act will then have to be voted on, with an unpredictable outcome (most MPs voted for the UK to stay in the EU). Theresa May's March 2017 date for notifying the UK's withdrawal from the EU could also be at risk."
Does today's decision invalidate the referendum result?
No. The decision today dealt with how the Article 50 process should be carried through, not whether it should be triggered.
"Although, politically speaking, this is a difficult moment for the government, this decision should not be understood as an outright win for Remain," explained Dr Nikos Skoutaris, a lecturer in EU law at the University of East Anglia. "The question for the court was not whether the UK should or should not withdraw but what is the appropriate procedure for triggering the withdrawal procedure."
Could parliament choose to not go through with Brexit?
It's unlikely, but it's not impossible. "If parliamentary approval is required before Article 50 can formally be triggered, it is unclear what the outcome will be," commented Guy Lougher, partner and head of the Brexit advisory team at Pinsent Masons. "Even if the House of Commons votes in favour of invoking Article 50, it is far from clear that the House of Lords would do so. In such a scenario a major constitutional debate will be triggered, given that the referendum result was clearly in favour of Brexit, which may well lead to an early general election."
Is today's decision good or bad for businesses?
Excusing the pun, for many, it will be business as usual. However, some commentators have pointed out today's judgment isn't great for anybody who wanted a quick solution to Brexit ups and downs.
"Companies need to ensure that they are prepared for future scenarios and this verdict means that they will need to reconsider and adapt their plans," said Jonathan Burnett, head of global risk consulting at Crowe Horwath. "By focusing on realistic scenarios management teams can bring greater certainty to their business decisions and position themselves to thrive over the coming months."