The non-binding opinion was delivered by an advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The news was welcomed by remainers, but widely rejected by leave campaigners. This comes as UK Parliament heads into five days of debate on Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal, with a vote due next Tuesday.
Can Brexit be cancelled?
The advice that the UK can unilaterally cancel the Brexit process came from advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona.
In a written statement, the ECJ said Mr Campos Sanchez-Bordona’s opinion was 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.
READ MORE: What does Theresa May’s Brexit draft say? The key points
And it should be able to do so without needing the consent of the other 27 member states – contrary to what the EU itself has argued.
The matter came to the ECJ after a group of Scottish politicians has asked the court whether the UK can call off Brexit without the consent of other member states.
While the advocate general’s opinions are not binding, the court tends to follow them in the majority of its final rulings.
The ECJ will deliver its final ruling at a later date.
What is Article 50?
The Prime Minister triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 30, 2017, starting the clock ticking – the UK is due to formally leave the EU on March 29, 2018.
The Lisbon Treaty became law in December 2009, eight years after European leaders launched a process to make the EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient”.
It’s an agreement signed by the heads of state and government of countries that are part of the EU.
Part of that law was Article 50. A very basic five-point plan should any country wish to leave the European Union.
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Under this law, the leaving country would have two years to negotiate a deal with the remaining 27 members of the EU.
This is what Mrs May has achieved – her deal has been negotiated and approved by the EU.
But now she needs to get the UK to agree to the deal, and it’s proving near impossible.
One of the things Mrs May negotiated is a ‘transition period’, whereby the UK would have two more years (or so) to negotiate the finer details of Brexit, including future relationships and trade agreements.
But if MPs reject the deal when it goes to a vote on December 11, the situation will be massively tenuous.
What happens if the deal is voted down?
If MPs veto the deal, we’re looking at a number of possible outcomes:
Request for the extension of Article 50 to allow more negotiating time
A second referendum to see if the public would want to abandon Brexit
General election (would also require an extension to Article 50)
Leaving with no-deal, a big fear of the EU and many in the UK.
You can READ MORE about what could happen if the deal is rejected here