Once again the rights of 17.4million voters were challenged in court today
The Court of Appeal in London has refused the human rights organisation Liberty permission to hear an urgent application seeking to prevent Boris Johnson “crashing out” of the EU without a deal. Three senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Dame Victoria Sharp, agreed that there was no need for the matter to be considered by the English courts immediately.
Richard Hermer QC, representing Liberty, argued that delaying any hearing until next week would allow the prime minister over the weekend, if parliament rejects a deal, to persuade the EU to refuse an extension to UK membership. The courts, he said, should not abdicate their responsibility and had a “constitutional duty to be seized of the matter”. If the issue was left until after the weekend, then Johnson might cause “irremediable damage” to the UK by frustrating the aim of the Benn act, which is intended to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The Benn act comes into effect if parliament fails to agree a deal by the end of Saturday.
But Sir James Eadie QC, for the prime minister, said it was premature to hear the application before the vote in parliament on Johnson’s new deal. “There will be a really significant turn of the kaleidoscope on Saturday,” he said. “It would be inappropriate for the court to interfere in the process. “Everyone on the government’s side has been dedicating their efforts to get to a position of a deal. The prime minister’s opposition to the Benn act and to an extension is extremely well known. ”If the deal is passed, Eadie said, it would be “unnecessary for the court to engage in this exercise … [since] parliament may well approve the deal done with the EU. It’s fanciful to suggest that the Europeans are not entirely aware of the fact that this act exists and of the government’s thorough-going opposition to the principle of an extension.”
After hearing argument for less than two hours, the three senior judges unanimously rejected Liberty’s request for an urgent hearing in full on Friday. Burnett said they would give their reasons at a later date.
If the deal is rejected in parliament on Saturday, both Liberty and the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which has submitted a similar claim, could return to the courts next week. Martha Spurrier
Liberty’s director, said “This fight continues because our democracy is at stake. Today in court the prime minister confirmed our worst fears, that he thinks he can take steps which we say would subvert the law. No one is above the law and Liberty will stop at nothing to hold the government to account.
“This case has nothing to do with Brexit. It is about ensuring the government, whoever it is, or whatever its intention, obeys the law. Liberty is and always has been fiercely independent and that’s what makes us the right people to continue this fight”.
Some organisations have money to burn on fighting the rights of 17.4million people who voted to leave the EU. Donors must wonder why they pay for democracy to be subverted in this way.