Miller’s Lawyer Says It’s ‘Obvious’ Government Needs Brexit Voteby
Attorney for main Brexit challenger starts case on Day Two
Supreme Court judge earlier said Article 50 was ‘irrevocable’
A lawyer leading the case against the U.K. government’s Brexit plans said it is clear that no single politician has the power to trigger the country’s exit from the European Union.
David Pannick, the attorney for Gina Miller, told Supreme Court judges in London that when Britain joined the EU in 1972 it created a new source of law, leading to hundreds of additional statutes as well as new rights and obligations.
“The idea that a minister could revoke this fundamental change to our constitutional order in my submission is inherently unlikely,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, opening the case against the government. “It’s so obvious. It’s so basic.”
Finance entrepreneur Miller, alongside a hairdresser and a group of Britons living abroad, filed a lawsuit to try to force Prime Minister Theresa May to hold a vote before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If successful, the case could delay the government’s plan to issue the notice as soon as March and hinder attempts to secure a favorable exit deal. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision early next year.
The government argues it has the legal power to leave international treaties without consulting lawmakers and, in any case, Parliament will have to vote on a Great Repeal Bill to replace European laws.
Earlier on Tuesday, Supreme Court President David Neuberger said judges were proceeding on the basis that giving formal notice of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union can’t be reversed.
“An irrevocable step is going to be made in the form of the Article 50 notice,” Neuberger said on the second day of arguments in the Brexit appeal. Both the government’s case, that it doesn’t need to consult Parliament before notifying the EU, and the legal challenge trying to force a vote, assume that Article 50 is irreversible once triggered.
James Eadie, a lawyer for the government, told judges that the Article 50 notice itself would not contain any information about the terms of Britain’s departure.
“It certainly won’t delve into what the agreement would look like,” he said.
The 11 judges asked whether future legislation related to Brexit, such as the proposed repeal bill that would abolish the 1972 European Communities Act that took Britain into the EU, is relevant to questions about the extent of the government’s powers.
“It’s valuable to know but it has no legal significance,” Judge Jonathan Sumption said, referring to the repeal bill.
Eadie had tried to argue that the repeal bill and other measures guarantee Parliament’s involvement in the Brexit process.
“The idea that Parliament will not be involved cannot possibly be sustained,” Eadie said.
While the judges sparred with Eadie and Pannick, EU officials laid out a timetable to negotiate the divorce with the U.K. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, said that if May is able to trigger Article 50 by her March deadline, an agreement can be readied by October 2018.
May told the BBC that whatever the ruling of the Supreme Court, she will be delivering “the will of the British people” on the June 23 referendum on the country’s EU membership. Separately, she told reporters that she would push for a “red, white and blue” tailor-made Brexit agreement.
"I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified -- hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, gray Brexit," she told reporters on a visit to Bahrain. "Actually what I think we should be looking for is a red, white and blue Brexit,” she said, listing the colors of the British flag. “That is the right deal for the United Kingdom,” May said. “That is going to be the relationship with the U.K. once we’ve left the European Union."
The Supreme Court hearings were closely watched by investors who were pinning their hopes that the judges rule against the government. The pound reached a two-month high as traders believe that more parliamentary involvement would reduce the chances of a hard Brexit that would take Britain out of the single market.
Eadie faced tough questions for a second day after judges on Monday focused on the fact that lawmakers had approved the 1972 treaty that paved the way for Britain to join the EU, with one jurist calling it a “joint effort.”
On Tuesday, Eadie conceded that the U.K. would have to replace “swaths and swaths” of European legislation in areas including equal rights, farming and employment.
Asked by Judge Brenda Hale whether he agreed that British citizens’ legal rights would be affected, Eadie said he did and added that the process would be complicated.
“The question will then be: how is the government going to shape the new domestic law?” he said. “The answer to that question is policy area by policy area.”
Eadie finished up before the lunch break and turned the arguments over to Richard Keen, the U.K. government’s advocate general for Scotland. He focused on the role of the semi-autonomous governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Brexit process.
Keen said that the three administrations had no responsibility for foreign affairs. Lawyers for the U.K. regions will make counter-arguments starting Wednesday.