Lord Pannick QC was centre stage yesterday at the Supreme Court, contesting the right of Prime Minister Theresa May to begin Brexit talks without Parliament's approval.
Acting on behalf of investment manager Gina Miller – the driving force behind the legal challenge to the government’s right to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval – he told the court June’s European Union referendum result does not give ministers the power to enact Brexit without consulting Parliament.
Lord Pannick set out seven arguments in response to the government’s case and why he believed the High Court’s decision last month should be upheld, adding the “political significance” of the vote was “irrelevant” to the legal battle and calling it “so obvious, so basic… These are matters for parliament.”
Yesterday the government argued parliament had the opportunity to push for legislation to be put in place to trigger Article 50, but choose not to, while Lord Pannick today said the government rejected an amendment to give legal force to the referendum, says Pannick.
Lord Pannick’s seven point case
- The 2015 referendum act doesn't give ministers prerogative to trigger Article 50, not mentioning it at all;
- While ministerial prerogative is used to enter into new treaties – such as EU membership – it can’t be used to change the UK constitution;
- The government must demonstrate parliament has handed power to ministers to supercede legislation, which hasn’t happened in this case;
- Parliament did not intend the 1972 Act to create ministerial prerogative power to undo membership;
- Ministers can’t use prerogative power to frustrate legislation;
- None of the European Union-related acts created over 40 odd years give ministers power to trigger Article 50;
- Only an act of parliament can take away the rights linked to the EU.
Lord Pannick is considered by many legal experts to be one of the best British lawyers working at the bar today.
Earlier, concluding the case for the government, James Eadie QC warned that Miller’s case is a “constitutional trap”, arguing the court would be imposing a new rule in a “highly controversial area”, and accusing the Miller and her legal team of “tight-rope walking” to make their case.
The hearing is an appeal of a decision last month from the High Court, where a trio of judges found in favour of a group of claimants arguing the UK's unwritten constitution did not allow government to trigger Article 50 without first having an act of parliament in place.
Meanwhile, bookmaker William Hill has lengthened the odds on the government winning the case from 12/5 to 3/1 after the session – it thinks it is likely the decision will be upheld.