LONDON: Britain’s government faces a court challenge on Thursday that could delay Brexit as lawyers argue Prime Minister Theresa May cannot take the country out of the EU without a parliamentary vote.
Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, Master of the Rolls Terence Etherton and senior Court of Appeal judge Philip Sales will hear arguments brought by lawyers for a number of different claimants, including an investment fund manager, a hairdresser and an expatriate living in France.
After a three-day hearing, the judges will retire and likely deliver their verdict within a few weeks.
Prime Minister May has condemned their challenge as an attempt to “subvert” the result of the June referendum when 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the EU.
But the claimants argue either that the vote was only “advisory” and must be implemented by elected lawmakers, or that only parliament can remove the rights accorded to Britons as EU citizens.
“Parliament has taken us into the European Union and only parliament can take us out,” said lawyer John Halford of Bindmans solicitors.
Most MPs campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU and, while many have now accepted the result, lengthy debates ahead of a vote could take months, upsetting the entire Brexit timetable.
May has said she wants to trigger Article 50 — the formal procedure for starting two years of talks on departure — by the end of March at the latest.
The government has argued its right to lead Brexit falls under “royal prerogative” — a type of executive privilege used in foreign policy.
The case reflects growing pressure from MPs themselves, led by the main opposition Labour party, for a vote on the terms of Britain’s exit over fears of an abrupt departure from the single market.