LONDON Oct 13 A legal bid to force the British
government to seek parliamentary approval before starting the
formal process of leaving the European Union begins on Thursday,
with ministers calling it an anti-democratic tactic to delay
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will trigger Article
50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism by which Britain begins a
two-year process to exit the European Union, by the end of March
next year and there will be no parliamentary vote beforehand.
But she is facing a legal challenge over whether the
government can use a historical power known as royal
prerogative, to decide when, how and whether to make this
Thursday's case in London's High Court comes amid wider
calls for lawmakers to have a vote over the shape of Brexit
negotiations, with many politicians arguing the June 23
referendum only revealed that Britons wanted to leave the bloc.
They voted by 52 percent against 48 percent to leave the EU,
with the "Leave" campaign focusing on the issue of immigration.
There is growing concern among some in parliament and in the
business community that May will go for a "hard Brexit", with
Britain leaving the EU's single market and imposing tight
immigration controls, damaging trade and investment.
Sterling has fallen to 31-year lows since May
announced the date she intended to trigger Article 50, and the
court case is being closely watched by market players who
believe if there is a vote in parliament, the greater the chance
there is of a "soft Brexit" or delays to the process.
May has accused those behind the action, some of whom openly
admit they did not want Britain to leave the EU, of trying to
subvert the referendum result. The claimants reject this, saying
they do not want to hinder or hijack the process but merely
bring legal certainty and proper democratic scrutiny.
"I don't see how a court case can block Brexit," investment
manager Gina Miller, the lead claimant, told Reuters last week.
"I am saying we have parliament, scrutiny and then a vote rather
than an antiquated power which is secretive and bypasses
The opposition Labour party on Wednesday demanded a debate
on Brexit saying there should be detailed scrutiny of and a vote
on the government's plans in the Brexit negotiations.
"The mandate on the 23rd of June was not a mandate on the
terms (of an EU exit deal)," said Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit
May and Brexit minister David Davis reiterated that the
government had the right to trigger Article 50, but promised
lawmakers would be allowed their say.
"The premise on which we are advancing is that we will have
proper scrutiny," Davis said. "But it is not one where we will
allow anyone to veto the decision of the British people."
The legal challenge beginning on Thursday simply centres
around who has the right to trigger Article 50 under Britain's
The litigants, which also include a hairdresser, British
expatriates and a group which calls itself the "People's
Challenge", say that Britons' rights established by a 1972 act
of parliament cannot be withdrawn by the government alone and
that the referendum was only advisory.
The government's top lawyer, Attorney General Jeremy Wright
will argue the case for ministers.
Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, Britain's most senior judge,
will oversee the arguments over three days with a verdict
expected by the end of the month. It is likely that the matter
will be appealed to the British Supreme Court for a final
decision before the end of the year.
If the court challenge is successful, the government could
be forced to pass legislation authorising Article 50 to be
triggered, requiring a vote by lawmakers, the majority of whom
voted to Britain to remain in the EU.
However, a Reuters poll of lawmakers found a third who voted
"remain" would now support triggering the Brexit process,
although it might face more opposition in the upper chamber, the
House of Lords.
Some lawyers involved in the legal case also believe May
might still choose to ignore the judges' decision if it goes
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Angus MacSwan)