Brexit legal challenge: Claimants victorious in most important constitutional law case for a generation

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By Katie King on

Leapfrog appeal hangs in the balance as judges put significant roadblock in Article 50’s way


The High Court, in what has proven to be the most important, emotive and divisive legal affairs story of the year, has ruled that Article 50 CANNOT be triggered without a free vote in parliament.

Addressing a packed courtroom 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, the Lord Chief Justice — sat between Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Sales — said the court expresses no political views on the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the European Union but considered the question purely as a matter of law.

The court was swayed by the impressive advocacy delivered by Blackstone Chambers’ Lord Pannick QC, who represented the lead claimant, Gina Miller (video below), at the two-and-a-half day judicial review hearing.

Lord Thomas agreed with the claimant that the European Communities Act 1972 gives UK citizens certain rights and once Article 50 is triggered, the rights conferred by this statute will be lost. Parliament is sovereign and the crown cannot, by exercise of its prerogative powers, override rights laid down by parliament. As a result, Article 50’s invocation must be conditional on parliamentary approval.

Whether this line of reasoning is correct has proved incredibly divisive in the run up to today’s judgment. Just last month, our readers — when asked who they thought would win the Brexit High Court challenge — were split 50/50, an uncanny near re-run of the Brexit referendum itself.

Though we now have judicial authority on this, the Brexit legal challenge saga may not be over. The Supreme Court has said it will accept a leapfrog appeal and has reserved space on 7 and 8 December for a hearing before eleven justices.

However, the possible Supreme Court hearing hinges on whether or not an appeal is lodged. Though this result is expected to produce a significant bump in the road for the UK’s exit from the EU, Joshua Rozenberg QC has speculated the government may not want to risk losing the case twice and will accept the result instead.

UPDATE: 11:38am Thursday 3 November

A government spokesperson has reportedly said:

The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by act of parliament. And the government is determined to respect the result of the referendum. We will appeal this judgement [sic].