Financial Chronicle - - AROUND THE GLOBE - REUTERS

The EU’s top court will say on Mon­day whether Bri­tain can uni­lat­er­ally halt Brexit, po­ten­tially of­fer­ing a boost to those op­posed to leav­ing the Euro­pean Union on the very eve of a cru­cial and tu­mul­tuous vote in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment.

In a brief state­ment on Thurs­day, the Court of Jus­tice in Lux­em­bourg said the jus­tices would de­liver a rul­ing on Dec. 10 in a case brought by Scot­tish politi­cians who ar­gue Bri­tain can sim­ply with­draw its plan to leave in March, with­out wait­ing for the ap­proval of the other mem­ber states.

PM Theresa May is bat­tling to get a Brexit deal that she ne­go­ti­ated with the Euro­pean Union through par­lia­ment and in­sists there is no ques­tion of her stop­ping Brexit.

But in a vote sched­uled for Tues­day, the treaty faces heavy op­po­si­tion from mem­bers of Par­lia­ment both for and against Bri­tain leav­ing the bloc. Act­ing with al­most un­prece­dented speed in a case that the court took up only in Oc­to­ber, and on which it held a hear­ing only last week, a le­gal ad­viser to the court said on Tues­day that Bri­tain could in­deed make a U-turn en­tirely of its own ac­cord. Such ad­vice is usu­ally but not al­ways fol­lowed by the judges. The le­gal clar­i­fi­ca­tion of Ar­ti­cle 50 of the EU treaty, un­der which May last year trig­gered a two-year count­down to de­par­ture, mat­ters be­cause op­po­nents of Brexit want to hold a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum that would give Bri­tons a choice of stay­ing in the EU. Ac­cord­ing to an ad­vo­cate gen­eral at the ECJ, that choice is en­tirely theirs to make and does not need EU ap­proval. That makes the prospect of a new ref­er­en­dum cred­i­ble, ac­cord­ing to sup­port­ers of a “peo­ple’s vote”. The Bri­tish elec­torate voted in 2016 to leave the EU by 52 per cent to 48.

EU lead­ers have long in­sisted they would wel­come Bri­tain chang­ing its mind, but many EU of­fi­cials and le­gal ex­perts had as­sumed that the ap­proval of ei­ther all or most of the other 27 mem­bers states would be needed to halt Brexit al­to­gether. It is far from clear whether or how Bri­tain could or­gan­ise a new ref­er­en­dum.

If May wins her vote on Tues­day, the with­drawal is likely to pro­ceed as agreed with Brus­sels last month. If she loses, her own po­si­tion could be in jeop­ardy, there could be a move for a new elec­tion, or pos­si­bly to hold a new ref­er­en­dum.

Opin­ion polls sug­gest that any new ma­jor­ity for stay­ing in the EU is nar­row. Nigel Farage, whose cam­paign­ing for Brexit pres­sured May’s pre­de­ces­sor David Cameron into his failed gam­ble to hold the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, ac­cused the ECJ of med­dling in pol­i­tics after the le­gal opin­ion.

Le­gal clar­i­fi­ca­tion of Ar­ti­cle 50 of the EU treaty, un­der which May trig­gered a two-year count­down to de­par­ture, mat­ters as op­po­nents of Brexit want to hold a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum

Bri­tain's Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May leaves Down­ing Street in Lon­don

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