UK government begins legal fight against ruling that could derail Brexit

Anti-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Supreme court building in London on the first day of a four-day hearing on December 5, 2016. (AFP)

The British government launched a Supreme Court battle on Monday over who has the power to trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union, seeking to overturn a legal ruling that could derail its Brexit strategy.

As the hearing began, EU backers in judges’ robes and wigs rode a double decker bus past the court, along with a van emblazoned with the slogan “The Brexiteers have failed us all.”

A small number of rival Brexit supporters waved placards saying “This is an establishment stitch-up.”

The government appealed to the country’s highest judicial body after the High Court ruled last month that ministers could not trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin two years of Brexit talks without lawmakers’ assent.

If the Supreme Court upholds the earlier ruling, that could disrupt Prime Minister Theresa May’s planned timetable for invoking Article 50 by the end of March and give lawmakers opportunities to water down the government’s EU exit policies.

With passions running high in Britain after voters opted to leave the EU by 52 to 48 percent in a June referendum, some politicians and newspapers have portrayed the legal battle as an attempt by establishment judges to thwart the popular will.

The government’s top lawyer told the Supreme Court that the earlier legal ruling was wrong, arguing that parliament had accepted ahead of the referendum that the government would use executive “prerogative” powers where it acted on behalf of the monarch to implement its result.

“The triggering of Article 50, we say, will not be an exercise of prerogative power on a whim or out of a clear blue sky,” said Attorney General Jeremy Wright, adding prerogative authority was not an “ancient relic but a contemporary necessity.”

“It is a logical conclusion of a process in which parliament has been fully and consciously involved.”

Outside the court, a grand neo-Gothic building located on the same central London square as the Houses of Parliament, police kept an eye on rival groups of pro- and anti-Brexit demonstrators.
The hearing is due to last for four days and for the first time in the Supreme Court’s seven-year history all 11 justices are sitting. The verdict is expected in January.

Last Update: Tuesday, 06 December 2016 KSA 23:12 - GMT 20:12