Supreme Court Brexit Hearing Moves EU Exit Decision Closer

  • All 11 judges to hear government case on triggering Brexit
  • Prime Minister argues that she can start process unilaterally

Bremmer: U.K.'s May Could Lose Brexit Momentum

After the Brexit bluster comes the calm deliberation.

The U.K. Supreme Court will hear the government’s case Monday against holding a vote in Parliament before beginning Britain’s exit from the European Union. The start of debate in the paneled chamber follows weeks of headlines accusing lower-court judges of being ‘Enemies of the People’ and conjecture about whether the 11-member panel could block Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger Brexit by the end of March.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright and government lawyer James Eadie will hope the justices are more responsive than the lower court led by Judge John Thomas when they begin making their case at 11 a.m. Officials are expecting unprecedented numbers of spectators and have opened two neighboring courtrooms with video links to deal with demand.

"The Government’s case was comprehensively rejected in the High Court but is seemingly going to be repeated in the Supreme Court, who will hear it in effect, afresh," said Charles Brasted, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells. "The elephant in the room is the question of whether the Article 50 notice could be withdrawn once issued."

Watch more: to set a reminder to follow the hearing live, click here.

Wright said Article 50 is irrevocable during the High Court hearing last month. Two former prime ministers -- Labour’s Tony Blair and his predecessor, John Major -- have suggested that the Brexit vote could be reversed.

Secret Plan

A win for the prime minister would enable her to keep her plan secret. She’s repeatedly told lawmakers she won’t elaborate on her negotiating stance to avoid giving her EU counterparts the upper hand. May wants to unilaterally trigger Article 50 to avoid a potentially time-consuming process of pushing legislation through Parliament.

“My belief, especially as they’re now appealing, and my team’s view, is the case is unappealable,” lead claimant Gina Miller said in a Nov. 18 Bloomberg Television interview. “The case creates the legal certainty for Mrs. May to go ahead, propose a bill and trigger it in her time table. What’s she afraid of?”

Defeat for the government would mean Parliament debating, amending and passing an Act, which May would likely try to limit in size and scope. 

A majority of lawmakers were against Brexit and although the consensus among them is that they won’t seek to challenge the will of the people, they may use the opportunity to force May to soften or at least better detail her approach.

May has said even with Parliament having a say, Article 50 could still be triggered by the end of March. 

Election Loss

Those seeking to derail, delay or design Brexit got a lift last week after the Liberal Democrat party unexpectedly won a parliamentary seat which had been in Conservative control.

Unlike London’s High Court, where recording or televising proceedings is against the law, the Supreme Court will show a live stream on its website. The hearing is scheduled to last four days with a judgment likely before the end of January.

Wright and Eadie will make their cases until Tuesday afternoon, before handing over to John Larkin, the attorney general for Northern Ireland. Gina Miller’s lawyer, David Pannick, is scheduled to speak at 2:45 that day.

Miller arrived at court at about 9:30 a.m. Monday flanked by lawyers and security guards as dozens of police officers formed a cordon across the front of the courthouse. Pro-Brexit group Vote Leave canceled a march led by Nigel Farage due to security fears.

‘Sad Day’

"It is a sad day when space needs to be made at the highest civil court for security guards for parties and party anonymity is required to protect litigants seeking their legitimate right to bring this matter to court," David Green, a lawyer for another claimant, Deir Dos Santos, said before the hearing. "Neither the parties, including my client, nor judges are the enemies of the people," he said, referring to a newspaper headline following the initial ruling in the Brexit case.

The government’s case was rejected Nov. 3 by a panel of three High Court judges who said triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will "inevitably" have the effect of changing domestic law.

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