LONDON — The government’s legal team endured a tough afternoon at the hands of the Supreme Court judges during day one of the Article 50 appeal.
James Eadie QC, who is representing the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU), faced a series of probing questions from the 11 justices, as he put forward his case for why Theresa May can exercise royal prerogative powers in order to invoke Article 50.
In one exchange, Lord Mance asked Eadie to explain what parliament’s role would be in the Great Repeal Bill, legislation that once passed will transpose EU law that currently affects UK law into domestic law. May first announced plans for the legislation at the Conservative party conference in October.
Mance asked this question because one of the key assumptions at the heart of the government’s legal argument is that MPs will get to have a big say on how Britain leaves the EU once Article 50 has been invoked.
The justice said: “Do you have any evidence that parliament will play a role once Article 50 has been triggered?… What actually is parliament’s role [in the Great Repeal Bill] other than what was said at Conservative Party Conference?”
Eadie could only respond with “pass.”
It was an embarrassing moment for the government’s legal team, which is tasked with persuading the 11 Supreme Court justices to overrule the ruling that the High Court delivered last month. It stunted Eadie’s momentum and evoked the impression that he was underprepared for a major aspect of the legal debate.
The lawyer also appeared to struggle when asked why the process of Britain’s exit from the EU should not be equal to Britain’s entry to the EU — for example, a “joint effort” between the government and parliament. The judges dwelled on the question for many minutes as Eadie failed to provide a convincing answer. “We’ve made steady progress,” Eadie remarked, sarcastically, with a grimace on his face.
Monday’s afternoon session illustrated the size of the task that faces the government’s lawyers.
Eadie and Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC raised some compelling points when the case got underway earlier in the day. The pair argued that parliament has had plenty of chances to limit the scope of royal prerogative powers prior to the in-out referendum. “If this [claim] is all about standing up for parliament then I say parliament can stand up for itself,” Wright said.
But the afternoon proved to be much more difficult, with Eadie facing questions from across the judges’ bench throughout the afternoon.
The case continues tomorrow morning and will conclude on Thursday before a final verdict is delivered in early January.
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