Brexit Article 50 Challenge to Quickly Move to Supreme Court

  • Lawsuit may reach Supreme Court by December, Leveson says
  • Brexit won’t begin before the end of 2016, government says

A lawsuit seeking to force Prime Minister Theresa May to consult parliament before beginning Britain’s exit from the European Union will be taken "very seriously" and may reach the Supreme Court by December, Judge Brian Leveson said.

“The court takes this litigation very seriously and will move expeditiously,” Leveson said during a hearing Tuesday. The case is "of such constitutional importance it is difficult to see why" it won’t move quickly to the Supreme Court after a two-day hearing that starts Oct. 15.

The lawsuit seeks to force the prime minister to obtain an Act of Parliament before initiating Britain’s exit from the E.U. by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. A vote in parliament would give lawmakers a chance to derail Brexit as economists cut forecasts for U.K. economic growth. Though most MPs advocated remaining in the EU before the referendum, a vote could make them choose between placating financial markets and carrying out the will of their constituents.

QuickTake Q&A: Brexit Gets First Challenge in U.K. Court Case

Gina Miller, who Leveson called a "concerned citizen,” will be the lead claimant. Hairdresser Deir Dos Santos, a group of unnamed U.K. citizens living in France and other expatriates, will also be party to the proceedings, he said. The government, which has yet to provide a detailed response to the lawsuit, must file its defense by Sept. 2, Leveson said.

The tensions from the often bitter Brexit campaign spilled over into the High Court case, with some who had planned on joining the lawsuit put off by racist and antisemitic abuse, said David Pannick, Miller’s lawyer.

A minority has been "regressive, abusive and threatening," said Leveson, who will redact names from documents. The court "will deal severely with anyone who intervenes with the course of this litigation."

Oliver Letwin, the minister overseeing the task force preparing for the exit negotiations before May appointed David Davis to head a new Brexit department, said it’s the prime minister’s responsibility to trigger article 50, citing advice from government lawyers. May has pledged to respect the will of the people and carry out Brexit, despite backing Remain before the June 23 vote.

The current position is "notification will not occur before the end of 2016," Jason Coppel, a lawyer representing the government, said during the hearing.

The government’s willingness to wait before invoking Article 50 is “welcome news for businesses,” said Ros Kellaway, a lawyer at law firm Eversheds in London.

“Businesses could be forgiven for being fearful of protracted Article 50 negotiations, but the reality is, a longer wait to get things right will be very much in their best interests,” said Kellaway, who is head of the firm’s competition and regulatory unit. “Especially so given the staggeringly complex and multi-faceted nature of Brexit.”

The case is Santos v. Chancellor for the Duchy Lancaster, CO/3281/2016, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court (Jul 19, 2016)

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