Brexit future to be decided as key legal challenge begins

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By Chris Johnson

A legal challenge over whether U.K. prime minister Theresa May has the power to start the country’s withdrawal from the European Union without parliamentary approval begins today.

A group of claimants led by investment manager Gina Miller and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos are demanding that the triggering of Article 50, which starts a two-year deadline for the exit process to be completed, be subject to a vote in parliament. The case will be settled by a three-day judicial review in London’s Royal Courts of Justice.

Miller is being represented by London-based Mishcon de Reya. The firm has instructed a group of heavy hitting barristers—specialist U.K. advocates who represent clients in court, typically operating independently from stand-alone “chambers” instead of law firms—including David Pannick QC of Blackstone Chambers, widely regarded as one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law. Mishcon’s London headquarters have been targeted by protesters opposed to the legal action.

Dos Santos, meanwhile, is being represented by David Greene, senior partner and head of group action litigation at London law firm Edwin Coe, and Dominic Chambers QC, a commercial law barrister at Maitland Chambers.

U.K. attorney general Jeremy Wright QC is representing the government alongside James Eadie QC, one of the government’s lead advocates in civil litigation.

Miller and Dos Santos are joined in the action by a number of interested parties and interveners, including The People’s Challenge, which has used crowdfunding to finance the case, raising almost 160,000 pounds ($195,000) from around 4,500 supporters.

The People’s Challenge is being represented by John Halford, co-head of public law at London law firm Bindmans, which is known for its work on civil liberties and human rights, and Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers. The crowdfunding was organized by Grahame Pigney, a British expat living in France who is part of the pro-EU campaign group Say Yes 2 Europe. “The enforced removal of citizenship rights from 65 million people is completely unprecedented in a modern democracy,” Pigney says on the fundraising page.

A separate crowdfunding by Jolyon Maugham QC raised more than 10,000 pounds ($12,000) to pay for legal advice from public law experts.

The group secured an early win a fortnight ago, with a High Court judge ruling that the government release its private legal arguments for not consulting parliament on the triggering of Article 50. The documents revealed that government lawyers will argue it is “constitutionally impermissible” for parliament to be given a vote on the Brexit process. “It is a polycentric decision based upon a multitude of domestic and foreign policy and political concerns for which the expertise of ministers and their officials are particularly well-suited and the courts ill-suited,” the documents say.

Miller’s skeleton argument [PDF] argues that triggering Article 50 without an act of parliament would “substantially undermine” constitutional rights. It also says that May’s recent announcement that she will trigger Article 50 by March puts her on a “collision course” with the courts by effectively “pre-empting the outcome of the case.”

May recently conceded to demands from rival parties for parliament to hold a “full and transparent debate” of the government’s Brexit plans before the formal exit process begins, but stopped short of pledging a parliamentary vote on Brexit negotiations or the triggering of Article 50.

The requirement for the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU to be subject to an act of parliament has widespread support within the legal industry. More than 1,000 U.K. attorneys previously wrote to then prime minister David Cameron to demand that MPs vote on the triggering of Article 50.

If the case succeeds and politicians are asked to vote on the issue, many will be conflicted between their own personal beliefs and upholding the result of a democratic vote, as the majority of U.K. politicians wanted the country to remain within the EU.

U.K. Grocery Giant Pulls Products Over Brexit Price Feud

Marmite and PG Tips tea are among dozens of products pulled by Tesco from its shelves over a price war with brand owner Unilever.

Unilever has hit British retailers with steep price hikes for its products as the company attempts to offset higher import costs caused by the collapse in the value of U.K. currency following the Brexit vote.

Tesco, the U.K.’s largest grocery chain, responded by removing Unilever products from its stores. Interestingly, Tesco CEO Dave Lewis is a former Unilever executive.

The pound has been in steep decline since the EU referendum and fell to a fresh 31-year low recently after the U.K. government indicated it is heading towards a so-called “hard Brexit.” U.K. prime minister Theresa May said last week that controlling immigration and withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would take precedent over maintaining access to the single market in Britain’s EU negotiations. There are fears that this could result in banks and other companies—including global law firms—shifting business away from London to other European cities. Earlier this week, Russia’s VTB Bank became the first major financial institution to announce that it will relocate its European headquarters from London due to the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU.

The pound plummeted six percent in two minutes in a freak flash crash last week. Although these losses were largely recovered, the pound has still lost more than 5 percent against the dollar this month, making it the world’s worst-performing major currency. Immediately before the EU referendum, the pound hit $1.50. It is currently trading at $1.216.

Britain Faces $22 Billion Brexit Divorce Bill

Britain faces being hit with a 20 billion euros ($22 billion) bill for leaving the EU, according to research by the Financial Times.

The EU has insisted that the U.K. will have to cover its shared payment liabilities as part of joint financial obligations imposed on all EU members. The country’s ongoing liabilities include unpaid budget appropriations of 241 billion euros ($265 billion), pensions liabilities of 63.8 billion euros ($70 billion) and future contractual and other spending commitments of around 32 billion euros ($35 billion).

Experts now believe that the EU’s shared budget could be one of the biggest hurdles in the U.K.’s withdrawal from the bloc.