Judicial review lawyer hits back at Theresa May's 'inflammatory' Brexit comments

Judicial review lawyer hits back at Theresa May's 'inflammatory' Brexit comments


Prime minister's speech increases the heat in debate that ‘turns on simple legal and constitutional principles', says Edwin Coe's senior partner

A solicitor representing one of the claimants in their challenge to the government's activation of article 50 has accused the prime minister of 'damning' the rule of law.

In her speech at the Conservative party conference last week, the prime minister, Theresa May, accused those seeking the judicial review into the government's authority to serve the article 50 withdrawal notice of being anti-democratic.

'Those people who argue that article 50 can only be triggered after agreement in both houses of parliament are not standing up for democracy, they're trying to subvert it,' she told the party faithful in Birmingham on Sunday.

'They're not trying to get Brexit right, they're trying to kill it by delaying it. They are insulting the intelligence of the British people.'

Responding to the attack, David Greene, senior partner of Edwin Coe, which is acting for one of the applicants in the article 50 challenge, said: 'Mr [Deir] Santos is asserting his constitutional right to challenge the authority of the government to exercise a right to serve the article 50 notice.

'To accuse him and others of being anti-democratic is both wrong and inflammatory. It will merely serve to increase the heat in this debate which turns on simple legal and constitutional principles.

'The government should not criticise the challenge but welcome it because it will give certainty to the article 50 process. This is about the rule of law. That issue should stand above all others. It is a principle that the government should uphold and not damn.'

In her speech, the prime minister also confirmed that the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, will be resisting the legal challenge in the High Court, alongside James Eadie QC, Jason Coppel QC, Tom Cross, and Christopher Knight, who have all been named as counsel for the government.

Taking to Twitter after the speech, Mark Elliott, professor of public law at the University of Cambridge, said May appeared to have 'weaponised' the attorney general 'in the service of democracy'.

Speaking ahead of the hearings, set for the 13 and 17 October, the attorney general said: 'The country voted to leave the European Union, in a referendum approved by act of parliament. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to re-join it through the back door, and no second referendum.

'We do not believe this case has legal merit. The result of the referendum should be respected and the government intends to do just that.'

Last week the government was forced to reveal its 'secret' defence strategy, following an application made by a group of British citizens opposed to Brexit.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Cranston ruled that '... the parties are not prohibited from publishing the defendant's or their own detailed grounds... against the background of the principle of open justice, it is difficult to see a justification for restricting publication of documents which are generally available under the rules'.

Bindmans partner John Halford said the order allowed a 'floodlight to be shone on the government's secret reasons for believing it alone can bring about Brexit without any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny'.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD