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Article 50 challenge fails at high court

By Jan Colley, Press Association

Campaigners have lost a High Court challenge over the legality of Article 50.

They hoped to win permission for a judicial review which, they claimed, could result in Brexit negotiations coming to a halt.

Lawyers for Elizabeth Webster, who spearheaded the crowdfunded effort, said there was clearly an arguable case to go forward to a full hearing.

Hugh Mercer QC told Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Green on Tuesday: "It is a public interest challenge which aims to ensure simply that the law is applied."

But the judges said the case was "hopeless and, for that matter, totally without merit".

The claim was contested by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union whose position was that it had no merit, was not brought promptly and was detrimental to public administration.

Ms Webster, 54, who ran as a Liberal Democrat candidate for North Swindon in the 2017 general election, was seeking a declaration that no decision to withdraw from the EU, for the purposes of Article 50, has been made.

Mr Mercer told the court that the campaign was not seeking to nullify the negotiations that had taken place to date.

"Should the court make the declaration sought by the claimant, it will be for the UK Government to decide how to respond to it."

Lord Justice Gross said that the court did not disparage the motivation of such challenges, given the importance of the rule of law.

But, the case was "doomed to fail" on its merits.

Ruling that there had been undue delay, he said it was a "paradigm instance" of a claim which needed to be made promptly.

He added: "It is difficult to conceive of a challenge more detrimental to the conduct of a major issue of national and international importance, whatever political view is taken of the merits or demerits of Brexit."

Put bluntly, he said, the debate which it sought to promote, was firmly in the political arena and not in the courts.

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