Top UK judges grill government lawyer on Brexit plans

The landmark hearing at the UK’s highest court follows a ruling by the High Court in November that Prime Minister Theresa May lacks the power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of Parliament.”That would by-pass an important constitutional requirement of the United Kingdom”, Lord Advocate James Wolffe told the Supreme Court on the fourth and final day of the appeal hearing.Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Brexit campaigner and former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith warned the Supreme Court risked causing a “massive constitutional clash” by “straying into the territory of telling Parliament and government how they want to go about their business”.Dec 6 British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government will have to put forward a parliamentary bill if it loses a Supreme Court case over whether it can begin Brexit talks without lawmakers’ approval, a government lawyer said on Tuesday.Opposition motions were due to be debated in the House of Commons this week, he said, while Parliament would be involved in subsequent questions of legislation.Lord Pannick is representing Gina Miller, an investment fund manager and philanthropist, who was the lead claimant in the group that won the historic High Court ruling blocking the use of the prerogative.Scotland’s top law officer, James Wolffe, told the court Thursday that “fundamentally, this case is about who has the power to change the law of the land”.UK MPs voted 448 to 75 on Wednesday to support a motion calling on the government to give details of its Brexit plan, but also backing the government’s timetable to trigger the divorce procedure by the end of March.May’s office said the vote does not affect the Supreme Court case.Mr Eadie agreed, saying: “Parliament can look after itself”.If the Supreme Court ruled against the Government, then the “courts would be imposing, in effect, a new control of the most serious kind in a highly controversial, and by Parliament, a carefully considered, area”, he said.The justices are also set to hear from other parties, including Northern Ireland and the Welsh and Scottish Governments.Some politicians and newspapers have portrayed the legal battle as an attempt by establishment judges to thwart the popular will. Voters opted to leave the European Union by 52 to 48 per cent in June’s referendum. “However. those wider political questions are not the subject of this appeal”.With specific reference to Scotland, he said: “There appears to be clear legal authority for the proposition that there is no material distinction between the foreign affairs prerogative as between Scotland and England”.He said: “The prerogative can not be used to remove rights and duties created by Parliament”.Government lawyers are arguing in a case described as being of “great constitutional importance” that it is for the Government to exercise prerogative powers in the conduct of the UK’s affairs on the global plane, including the EU.David Pannick, lawyer for lead claimant Gina Miller, said British law contains “scores, hundreds of statutes which implement European Union law”, and these can not be wiped away by “a minister acting without parliamentary authority”.