Brexitigation: article 50 in a heatwave – an artist’s impression

Posted on 19th Jul 2016 in Case Comment

Today saw the opening scene of a courtroom drama that looks likely to play out over the rest of the year, if not beyond. Claims have been brought against the government in the person of the Secretary of State for Brexit with a view to obtaining a court ruling on the correct procedure for the sending to the rest of the European Union of a notification under article 50 of the EU Treaty, following the referendum vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU. Does it require Parliament to vote, or even to pass a new law? Or can it be done by exercise of the royal prerogative? There is a good explanation of it all by Joshua Rozenberg in a podcast   for Legal Cheek. The artist Isobel Williams was there, and has recorded her experience of the hearing in this impressionistic guest post.


Article 50 in a heatwave

Art 50 1
Douglas Adams was wrong. The answer is not 42, but 44.

The question: which way did you vote in the referendum?

A northerner said to me once: “I didn’t recognise your number because it began with 44.” That makes him a leave and me a remain.
Yes, I oversimplify. This is a blog post.

I am in Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice. The outcome of the referendum is getting its first and by no means last day in court.

The day of the referendum had apocalyptic rain. Today is beyond sweltering. The court has its own pathetic fallacy: in a ring of lightbulbs, one is dark, like the symbolic star which users of social media are removing from the EU flag.

Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,  
I can again thy former light restore,  
Should I repent me…

My notes say:

Ski jump nose flaring nostrils fine tapering fingers
Dirk Bogarde’

Good God, is this Mills & Boon?

Today, order has to be made out of a slew of represented parties and two litigants in person, who have what is described as a Venn diagram of intersecting interests.

From the bench:
‘…urgency and uncertainty…’
‘…concerned citizens…’
‘I look across the front row and see a bewildering array of legal talent.’
‘We are living in very uncertain times.’

‘Four hundred funders are not necessarily four hundred clients’ (prompting thoughts of the Four Hundred who established a short-lived oligarchy in war-torn ancient Athens).

Do you trigger Article 50 or invoke it? Most people in court today say trigger, which sounds final, but I prefer invoke, as in conjuring a spirit, which might vanish.
‘It would be disturbing if the Government said: all right, we’ll just do it,’ says the bench.
Lord Pannick [for the claimant] says that would be ‘inconceivable’.

‘There will be no decision and Article 50 will not be invoked,’ says Jason Coppel QC [for the government].
‘Before the end of the year. Let’s just finish the sentence,’ says Lord Leveson.
[Laughter; hasty confab among counsel’s party]

Afterwards Joshua Rozenberg, who has been taking notes on yellow paper, speaks to camera outside.

I catch a disastrously designed Heatherwick bus. It is intolerably hot and breaks down at Marble Arch. ‘The bus has gone mechanical,’ says the driver.

Art 50 2


At home I do a rough draft sketch of the court scene and lose the will to live. I go to Beethoven’s  Missa Solemnis.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison
Miserere nobis
Dona nobis pacem

The hearing will probably be in October.




My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until 30 July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.


Isobel tweets as @otium_Catulle