‘There is no going back’: Lord Pannick QC kicks off Brexit legal challenge

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By Katie King on

There were protesters dressed as lawyers outside the High Court


The long-awaited Brexit legal challenge kicked off in the High Court this morning, complete with a star-studded legal team and judicial bench.

In courtroom 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice, three top judges, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, the new Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton and Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Sales, heard submissions from Lord Pannick QC.

Acting for the lead claimant, businesswoman and British citizen Gina Miller, the Blackstone Chambers barrister told the bench the case was one of “fundamental constitutional importance”.

Walking through the bustling court, this is clear to see. The courtroom was packed out, while the two overflow courts (courtrooms 20 and 28) were also busy.

Outside the iconic, London building — which recently became victim to some creepy graffiti — lawyers, journalists and other interested spectators queued up to enter the court, while protesters gathered outside and handed out leaflets. One read:

Lawyers, hands off our democracy!… [The Miller case] is an outrage against democracy. The Brexit vote is the biggest democratic mandate in British political history. And it must be respected.

Though the political and emotive aspects of the Brexit debate weighed heavy today, Pannick was quick to reassure the court this case isn’t about politics.

According to him, the defendant’s legal team — headed up by attorney general Jeremy Wright QC — is wrong to suggest the judicial review is in any way an attempt by the claimant, Miller, to block Brexit. Instead, the legal challenge is about parliamentary sovereignty; whatever parliament does with this sovereignty is down to parliament.

Later, Pannick told the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, the new Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton and Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Sales that triggering Article 50 would lead to a loss of rights because of the lapse of the EU treaties. A minister of the Crown has no legal power to remove these statutory rights without parliamentary authority, and it is “no answer” to say parliament may take action and be able to somehow get these rights back in the future. On Britain’s withdrawal:

There is no going back.

EU law fans will be thrilled to know the court was also treated to a whistlestop tour of the supremacy of European law, courtesy of Pannick, featuring cases including Simmenthal and Van Gend en Loos. And yes, Factortame got a mention too.

The hearing continues on Monday and is expected to conclude on Tuesday. It is understood the case will be leapfrogged to the Supreme Court by the end of the year once a decision has been given by the High Court; expect lots more Article 50 derring-do.