By Robert Hutton and Kit Chellel, Bloomberg News
Mishcon de Reya, a top London law firm, said it’s representing a group of unidentified clients threatening legal action against the British government if it tries to initiate the process of leaving the European Union without consulting parliament.
The formal start to Brexit talks is likely to be the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Mishcon de Reya said in a statement that this process can only begin with parliament’s consent. The U.K. government’s position is that it’s a decision for whoever is prime minister after David Cameron tendered his resignation.
“The result of the referendum is not in doubt, but we need a process that follows U.K. law to enact it,” Kasra Nouroozi, a partner at the firm, said in an e-mailed statement. “Everyone in Britain needs the government to apply the correct constitutional process and allow parliament to fulfill its democratic duty, which is to take into account the results of the referendum along with other factors and make the ultimate decision.”
British voters chose to sever the country from the EU in a June 23 referendum that rocked markets, plunged the main political parties into turmoil and led to the resignation of Cameron. It’s not yet clear how and when the government will trigger Article 50 and start the two-year timeline to Britain’s exit.
“There is a desperate need here for legal clarity,” said Jeff King, a senior law lecturer at University College London. He said there is support in the legal and academic communities for the idea that only Parliament, as the U.K.’s legislative body, has the power to invoke Article 50. “I don’t think this will be batted out of court,” he said. “There seems to be a good chance of it going up to the Supreme Court.”
Any lawsuit would likely result in a judicial review, where judges assess the legality of the government’s actions, said King. He is still hopeful a political solution can be found without the need for judicial intervention.
Mishcon de Reya’s clients have included Diana Princess of Wales, during her divorce, celebrities who had their phones hacked by News Corp. newspapers and the former owner of a bankrupt Latvian lender.
Mishcon de Reya hired barristers David Pannick, Tom Hickman, Rhodri Thompson and Anneli Howard to act in the matter. The law firm said it has been in touch with government lawyers since June 27 to “seek assurances that the government will uphold the U.K. constitution and protect the sovereignty of parliament in invoking Article 50.”
The firm declined to comment on the identity of its clients or why they needed to remain anonymous. Political blogger Guido Fawkes said this morning that Alex Chesterman, the millionaire co-founder of property website Zoopla, was involved in the legal fight.
“The action is being supported by a wide range of clients and hundreds of supporters including businessmen like Alex, academics and others who want to make sure that the correct constitutional process is followed and this is done right,” said Lawrence Hall, a Zoopla spokesman, who said the company itself isn’t involved.
David Cameron’s position is that the next Prime Minister should decide on how to trigger Article 50, according to Helen Bower, his spokeswoman. “He’s said we’ve now got to look at all the detailed arguments. Parliament will clearly have a role making sure we find the best way forward,” she said when asked about the Mishcon announcement.
In a separate legal action, London tax lawyer Jolyon Maugham has raised more than 10,000 pounds on a crowd-funding platform to examine what could be “the most important public law case in living memory,” according to the website. His team also plans to get the government’s position on whether there will be a Parliamentary vote.
“This issue is coming up from various angles,” said UCL’s King. “We probably want as many barristers involved as we can.”
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