1,054 barristers sign letter urging David Cameron to give parliament final say over Brexit

By on

Lawyers fight back against shock EU referendum result — again

David Cameron reading

Over 1,000 of the country’s top barristers have signed a pleading letter to the Prime Minister recommending there be a “free vote” in parliament before article 50 is invoked.

In true lawyer style, the letter — signed off by head of Cornerstone Barristers Philip Kolvin QC and “1,053 others” — points out that the European Referendum Act doesn’t specify that the result is legally binding.

It also argues that the referendum “did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU”, e.g. 40% of the electorate — further evidence it was only advisory.

And if the referendum isn’t legally binding, the signatories argue:

in order to trigger article 50 [the legal process for withdrawal from the EU], there must first be primary legislation.

The letter — which was signed by over 100 QCs according to press reports — also goes on to say that the referendum result may have been “influenced by misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered.” Given the closeness of the result (48% voted to remain in the EU, 52% to leave), “it cannot be discounted that the misrepresentations and promises were a decisive or contributory factor in the result.”

Kolvin and friends state that a Royal Commission or an equivalent body should report on the “benefits, costs and risks” of triggering article 50, and a parliamentary vote should take place once the Commission has reported.

Last week, Gray’s Inn-based Kolvin directly contacted barristers via email about signing the letter. The message (pictured below) asks members of the bar from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to contact him by 8 July if they wished to be a signatory.


This is not the first time lawyers have taken aim at the recent — and controversial — public vote to leave the EU. Last week, it was revealed lawyers from law firm Mishcon de Reya had launched a legal bid to preserve the UK’s EU membership on behalf of a group of business clients. The firm has retained top talent from three elite chambers (Blackstone, Matrix and Monckton) in the bid.

While the newest initiative, courtesy of the barristers, has clearly garnered a lot of support from the profession, not everyone’s convinced. One anonymous barrister told Legal Cheek the letter is “yet another example of an inappropriate response to a democratic process”.

Read the letter in full here:

Letter by Legal Cheek on Scribd