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Government loses battle to trigger Article 50 without consulting Parliament

The ruling has been cheered by Remain supporters. 

MPs campaigning against a hard Brexit are cheering a High Court ruling that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without parliamentary permission. 

Theresa May's government, formed in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, claimed it could trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval, through the use of a Royal Prerogative. Its argument hinged on the 1972 European Communities Act, which it said gave provision for acting in this manner. 

But the court said it did not accept the argument put forward by the government, and found "nothing" in the text of the 1972 Act to support it.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Given the strict two year timetable of exiting the EU once Article 50 is triggered, it is critical that the government now lay out their negotiating to Parliament, before such a vote is held."

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said: “Labour accepts and respects the referendum result and recognises that we are leaving the EU. But the role of Parliament in deciding how we exit is vital.

"The court made clear today that the Prime Minister was wrong to attempt to sideline the House of Commons and public scrutiny. The government should now urgently review its approach."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to Parliament on the terms of Brexit."

The pound has increased in value against the dollar in the wake of the judgement. It may reflect the fact many Remain voters hope Parliament will be able to obstruct a hard Brexit and broker a deal that includes some form of access to the single market, and a more flexible approach to free movement. The vast majority of MPs backed Remain, including a slim majority of Conservatives. 

Nicky Morgan, a Tory MP strongly backing Remain, tweeted: "Right that Parliament should vote on legislation to trigger Article 50. Sovereignty regained from EU should go to sovereign UK Parliament."

Her fellow Tory Remainer, Anna Soubry, tweeted that the government should accept the court's ruling.

And in a tongue-in-cheek reference to May's comment that "Brexit means Brexit", shadow Home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted: "Parliamentary sovereignty means parliamentary sovereignty."

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who is lobbying for a soft Brexit, tweeted that the judgement was "significant indeed". 

The case was brought by Gina Miller, a wealth manager, alongside a crowd-funded group called the People's Challenge, led by Grahame Pigney, a semi-retired trade unionist.

Pigney told The Staggers he simply believed Parliament should be sovereign. After the verdict, he said he was ready to fight any appeal by the government "with the same vigour and commitment". 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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