U.K. Government Says Brexit Lawsuit Seeks to Invalidate Vote

  • Court risks interfering with Parliament, government says
  • Attorney general speaks on second day of London court hearing

The Big Ben clock tower and the Houses of Parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s top legal adviser told a London court that a lawsuit seeking to force a vote in Parliament before triggering Britain’s exit from the European Union is little more than an attempt to overturn the results of the June 23 referendum.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said that the challenge at its most basic level amounts to interference with democracy. Lawyers representing the claimants said Friday that May’s bid to trigger Brexit on her own would amount to an unconstitutional power grab that tramples upon centuries of legal precedent.

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Supporters of remaining in the EU are saying “Parliament should be asked the same question put to the people in a referendum,” Wright told three senior judges during the second day of the hearing in the case. In reality, they want to "invalidate the decision already taken to withdraw from the EU."

Triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty is "irrevocable," Wright said.

Victory for claimants Gina Miller, who runs an investment startup, and Deir Dos Santos, a hairdresser, could undermine May’s plans to invoke Article 50 by the end of March. Any delay would cheer investors concerned that the prime minister is prioritizing immigration controls over safeguards for trade and banking.

No Immediate Effect

Lawyers for the government other than Wright emphasized that Article 50 is only the start of a two-year process.

Article 50 does not “have any immediate effect in domestic law," said James Eadie, a lawyer advising the government. "Parliament will be intimately involved in this process, including inevitably through the passage of primary legislation.”

The pound has plunged 18 percent since the referendum on concerns over the prime minister’s hard-line stance. The U.K. dropped out of businesses’ top five locations for investments for the first time in seven years as fears about the country’s Brexit plan added complexity to international deals, consultants Ernst & Young LLP said in a survey of executives released Monday.

The court hasn’t scheduled a date for its ruling, but any opinion would have to be handed down in time for the parties to prepare for an appeal to the Supreme Court in December.

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