Eurosceptic MPs have hit out at a London law firm after it revealed it was prepared to launch legal action over the triggering of Article 50, which would begin the UK’s formal exit from the EU.
Mishcon de Reya announced last night that, on behalf of an unnamed group of clients, it had started to pull together a team who would be ready to head to court if the government attempted to start the Article 50 process without first securing an act of parliament.
“We must ensure that the government follows the correct process to have legal certainty and protect the UK constitution and the sovereignty of parliament in these unprecedented circumstances,” said Kasra Nouroozi, partner at Mishcon de Reya. “The result of the referendum is not in doubt, but we need a process that follows UK law to enact it.
“The outcome of the referendum itself is not legally binding and for the current or future Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 without the approval of parliament is unlawful.”
Although the statement from the law firm unveiled nothing precise about what stage it was at in its legal proceedings, it did reveal that it had been in talks with lawyers for the government since last Monday to find out what they thought the legal process of leaving the EU would entail.
Mishcon de Reya stressed that the preparatory legal actions it was taking are not an attempt to overthrow the vote or ignore the interests of those who voted to leave the EU, but are taking place to make sure that proper legal processes are not being undermined.
Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, called the law firm’s manoeuvre “outrageous and incredibly arrogant”, adding “these people are just grandstanding”.
Last Tuesday, MEPs voted to pass a motion in the European Parliament urging the UK to activate Article 50 as soon as possible in an effort to keep the period of uncertainty caused by the referendum decision as short as possible.
“The EU doesn’t want us to stay and they’ve made that very clear...there’s no way we’re going to go back to the status quo,” added Kwarteng.
Meanwhile, Ukip MP Douglas Carswell told City A.M.: “I suspect this will confirm the worst fears of many of millions of people who fear the establishment trying to subvert the outcome of the referendum. If, as a result of lawyers, the clear majority view was subverted, then god help us, we would go into an extremely dangerous situation.”
Bernard Jenkin, who chairs parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, added: “This is an extraordinary attempt to disrupt the consequence of a referendum... We have a democracy, the democracy is working fine and we don’t need the judges to intervene with it.”
Martin Howe QC, chair of pro-Brexit group Lawyers for Britain, called the proposed action “devoid of all legal merit”. “As a matter of political authority, the decision of the British people not merely permits but mandates the giving of notice, without the need for any vote by parliament,” Howe said.