Not so long ago, the UK Government was blissfully unaware of Grahame Pigney, a British man living in semi-retirement, in France. But then came Brexit.
Pigney, who had been campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, was devastated. But after a few days, he picked himself up and started monitoring the news. He was alarmed to discover the Government thought it could trigger Article 50 without the express permission of Parliament.
He wasn’t alone. Gina Miller, an investor, was equally incensed and decided to take the Government to court. Pigney (pictured below) set up a crowdfunding campaign to support the case, The People’s Challenge. So far, the campaign has raised more than £100,000.
This week, the campaign scored its first major victory, when a judge overruled the Government’s attempts to keep its legal defence secret. The case itself will be held in October.
At a time when the minister for Brexit, David Davis, can only say it means “leaving the EU”, the defence sheds some light on the Government’s thinking.
For example, it is clear that despite suggestions that Article 50 will be triggered in early 2017, the Government could be easily persuaded to shift the date:
“The appropriate point at which to issue the notification under Article 50 is a matter of high, if not the highest, policy; a polycentric decision based upon a multitude of domestic and foreign policy and political concerns for which the expertise of Ministers and their officials are particularly well suited an the Courts ill-suited.”
It is also, despite Theresa May’s trips to Scotland, not a power that the Government is willing to share. In response to Pigney’s argument that triggering Article 50 without parliamentary approval impinges on Scotland’s separate body of law, it stated bluntly: “The conduct of foreign relations is a matter expressly reserved such that the devolved legislatures have no competence over it.”
Although Pigney is one of the millions of expats left in jeopardy by Brexit, he tells The Staggers he is not worried about his family.
Instead, he says it is a matter of principle, because Parliament should be sovereign: “I am not a quitter.”
While Davis argues he cannot reveal any information about Brexit negotiations without jeopardising them, Pigney thinks the Brexiteers simply “haven’t got anything”.
A former union negotiator, he understands why Davis doesn’t want to reveal the details, but finds the idea of not even discussing the final goals is baffling: “When I was a union member, we wouldn’t tell them how everything was going but you did agree what the targets were that you were going for.”
He said: “The significance of what happened is we were able to peel away a layer of Government secrecy. One of the things that has characterised this Government is they want to keep everything secret.”