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Fresh legal challange to Brexit blocked by High Court as premature

Peter Wilding, chairman of the pro-Europe pressure group British Influence, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London where fresh legal challenge over Brexit has been blocked. Picture by Dominic Lipinski, Press Association
John Aston and Cathy Gordon, Press Association

A FRESH legal challenge over Brexit has been blocked by the High Court on the grounds that it is "premature".

Parliament has already given the British government its approval to trigger Brexit under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the exit from the EU.

It followed a historic legal action in the Supreme Court over parliamentary sovereignty.

But a group of campaigners who want a 'soft Brexit' and to keep Britain in the European single market after the EU divorce asked two judges in London for permission to seek a new ruling that parliament must separately give permission before the government can pull out of the European Economic Area (EEA).

They applied for permission to seek various orders, including a declaration that it would be unlawful for Prime Minister Theresa May to cause the UK to leave the EEA without prior parliamentary authorisation through a new act of parliament, and the serving of a withdrawal notice under Article 127 of the EEA Agreement.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Lewis refused the go-ahead, saying: "In our judgment the current claims are premature and for that reason permission to apply for judicial review is refused."

The judge said: "There is no final decision by the government as to the mechanism by which the EEA agreement would cease to apply within the UK."

The court did not know at present "what, if any, justiciable issues will arise for the courts".

The High Court decision was welcomed by a government spokeswoman, who said: "As the prime minister has said, we will not be a member of the single market and we will be seeking a broad new partnership with the EU including a bold and ambitious free trade agreement."

Lawyer David Golten, who is based at law firm Wedlake Bell, had earlier warned: "Potential litigation about Article 127 will make the Article 50 case look like a walk in the park."

The applications for judicial review were brought by campaigners including Peter Wilding, chairman of the pro-Europe pressure group British Influence, who is credited with coining the word Brexit.

He was joined by Conservative lobbyist Adrian Yalland, who voted Leave, and four anonymous applicants referred to as W, L, T and B.

George Peretz QC, appearing for Mr Yalland and Mr Wilding, said the case raised important legal questions regarding the UK's membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the single market.

The Department for Exiting the European Union had maintained throughout that the case was unarguable and contended: "Once the UK leaves the EU, the EEA agreement will automatically cease to apply to the UK."

Mr Yalland and Mr Wilding said later in a joint statement: "We were right to bring this challenge, and unless the government gives business and the country the certainty it needs and deserves, it is highly likely we will be here again - only in circumstances where the merits of our case will be heard, as opposed to the outcome of today where the government was able to use procedure to prevent the substantive issues being considered.

"It is intolerable that those who depend upon their EEA rights to trade with the EEA, or those who are married to EEA citizens, or are EEA citizens resident in the UK, are being used as a negotiating pawn by a government who can choose to act unilaterally to clarify our legal position, but will not.

"Legal certainty is a basic fundamental tenet of our legal system - and we still lack that certainty over whether our EEA rights and freedoms will remain, be taken away by the stroke of a minister's pen, or after parliamentary consideration. That is an intolerable and disproportionate interference with our fundamental rights.

"The government should now accept the valid concerns that hundreds of thousands of individuals have – which business have – and provide some clarity.

"The government must stop playing poker with our rights and stop taking liberties with our freedoms."

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