The UK could cancel its departure from the EU at the stroke of a pen, a leading European law expert has said.
European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona said it can be done without permission from the other 27 EU states.
He had been asked by a group of Scottish politicians to give a non-binding legal opinion on whether the UK could cancel the Article 50 process for leaving the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on March 29 2017, starting a two-year countdown for the UK to depart from the bloc.
The full ECJ ruling on the issue will be delivered at a later date, but today’s opinion comes at an awkward time for Mrs May.
Parliament begins five days of debates on her Brexit departure plan today and a final vote will be held next Tuesday in which it is expected to be overwhelmingly rejected.
Mr Campos Sanchez-Bordona said that if an EU country decided to leave, it should also be able to change its mind during the two-year Article 50 period.
Although his opinion is not legally binding, the Luxembourg-based ECJ generally adheres to such statements when making a formal ruling.
Opponents of Mrs May’s withdrawal deal welcomed the news, as they believe it gives them more ammunition when it comes to the vote next week.
They hope it raises the prospect of abandoning Brexit and remaining in the EU, possibly by holding a second referendum, the so-called ‘People’s Vote.’
In its written statement, the ECJ said the advocate general took the view that the court should rule that Article 50 allows for the exit process to be scrapped.
It continued: “That possibility continues to exist until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded.”
With the clock ticking towards the March 29 deadline for the UK’s departure next year, Mrs May must win Parliamentary approval for her plan next week for it to proceed.
One of the politicians who brought the case, SNP MEP Alyn Smith, said of the advocate general’s opinion: “We now have a roadmap out of the Brexit shambles.”
He added that it meant Parliament no longer faced a straight choice between Mrs May’s deal and a hard Brexit, saying: “We can stop the clock.”
The case was brought by a group of politicians and activists, including MPs, MSPs and MEPs from the Scottish National Party, Green Party and Labour.
They include an SNP MEP and MP, two Labour MEPs, two Green MSPs and Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project.
It commenced in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which passed it to the ECJ, sparking two unsuccessful appeals against the referral by the UK Government.
Government lawyers had argued that the case was a ‘hypothetical’ one as the UK had no intention of performing a U-turn on leaving the EU.