Wednesday 17 January 2018

Brexit 'not being done on whim, MPs shouldn't be involved', supreme court told

Gina Miller leaves the UK supreme court after the first day of the challenge – it was her legal challenge to Brexit that triggered the current supreme court case. Photo: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Gina Miller leaves the UK supreme court after the first day of the challenge – it was her legal challenge to Brexit that triggered the current supreme court case. Photo: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images
UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Michael Wilkinson

The British government's use of the royal prerogative to trigger the process of taking Britain out of the European Union is not being done on a "whim" or "out of a clear blue sky", the UK's highest court was told yesterday.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright told 11 supreme court justices at the start of one of the most important constitutional cases in British legal history that it was the "logical conclusion of a process in which parliament has been fully and consciously involved".

The government's top law officer said that process was one in which parliament had "resolved to put a clear and decisive question about our nation's future to the British people, and in which parliament expected the government to act on the answer they gave".

"None of this means, of course, that parliament will not be closely involved in the process of the UK's withdrawal from the EU over the coming months and years," Mr Wright said.


He was presenting argument on behalf of the government urging the panel of justices to overturn a high court ruling on November 3.

In a decision that infuriated Brexiteers, three judges said UK Prime Minister Theresa May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of parliament.

Mr Wright told the justices in London that the case was of "great constitutional significance in which there is understandable and legitimate interest both inside and outside this courtroom".

He said the high court had reached the "wrong" decision.

It was for the government to exercise prerogative powers in the conduct of the UK's affairs on the international plane.

The position of those who had brought the case and others had always been "that they have no interest in derailing Brexit but only in defending parliament's role in the process".

Mr Wright continued: "But if this is all about standing up for parliament, I say parliament can stand up for itself.

"When it comes to leaving the European Union, parliament has had full capacity and multiple opportunities to restrict the executive's ordinary ability to begin the Article 50 process and it has not chosen to do so."

Allowing ministers to trigger Brexit was parliament's "clear expectation" when it agreed to an EU referendum, the supreme court has been told.

He said the government would be making "lawful" use of "fundamental" powers by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The outcome will have implications for Ms May's strategy for EU exit, but it is not a court case on whether or not Brexit actually takes place.

Ms May will be given an indication of the scale of parliamentary opposition she faces over Brexit tomorrow, with a potential revolt over demands for the government to set out its plan for leaving the EU before triggering Article 50.

Labour will use an opposition-day debate to force a Commons showdown on the issue, with dozens of Tories thought to be considering supporting the demand.


Conservative former minister Anna Soubry said she had read Labour's motion and "I have to say I can't see anything in it I don't approve of and could not support".

Threatening to rebel unless the government tabled an acceptable amendment to the Labour motion, she told BBC Radio 4's 'World At One': "These things are incredibly important. This actually transcends party politics and tribalism."

As many as 40 Tories could revolt and back the Labour motion, the BBC reported, and Ms Soubry said: "Who knows what support is out there in the parliamentary party."

Former Tory leader Lord Howard told the programme: "I don't think it's reasonable to expect the government to disclose its negotiating position.

"You can try and make distinctions between principles and details, but I don't think those distinctions stand up. If you are entering into a negotiation, the last thing you want to do is to disclose your hand before you start negotiating." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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