LONDON — Activists who want Parliament to have a say in Brexit were celebrating on Thursday after judges ruled that it wasn’t legal for the British government to leave the European Union without consulting its members.
May had said that she would trigger Article 50, the mechanism by which the U.K. will start negotiations over leaving the bloc, by the end of March. But Thursday’s ruling means that the government would first need to consult with Parliament. The government has signaled it will seek to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Commentators said the legal ruling is unlikely to block Brexit, but it could alter the way it unfolds. Still, Brexit is a highly emotional issue here, and so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that many of those who voted to remain were rejoicing, while some Brexiters were calling the ruling a disgrace.
So who are the activists who brought the case to court, throwing a giant spanner into the works?
1. Gina Miller
Miller, a 51-year-old business executive and philanthropist, was the leading claimant in the case. Her name was trending on social media on Thursday, with many of her supporters dubbing her a “hero” for taking on the British government.
Miller was deeply disappointed by the June referendum that saw Britons opt to leave the E.U. in a 52-to-48 percent vote.
“I was sick to the stomach on the morning of the vote because I voted to remain,” she told AudioBoom. “But then, as the days went on, I realized that we really can’t look backward, we have to think, how do we make the best of this,” she said.
She channeled her frustration into the legal challenge, and persevered despite a boycott against her business and receiving “thousands” of threatening emails. “I get emails saying, ‘Your head belongs on Traitors’ Gate,” she said.
In a statement read outside the Royal Courts of Justice, she said the case was about “process not politics” and urged the government not to appeal the ruling.
Gina Miller speaks as she wins the High Court challenge to force a Parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50. pic.twitter.com/5L5fx3Abag— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 3, 2016
Miller has a long history of rocking the boat.
She is the co-founder of the investment firm SCM Private and the “True and Fair Campaign,” both of which urge greater transparency and scrutiny in the investment industry.
In an interview earlier this year with the Financial Times, she recounted confronting three men at an industry party who were staring at her.
“Being as bold as I am I went up to them, introduced myself and asked if there was a problem. One of them replied that I was a disgrace and that my lobbying efforts would bring down the entire city,” she said, referring to her campaigning efforts against hidden fund charges.
They also informed her of a nickname that people had for her: black widow spider.
Born in Guyana and raised in the U.K., she is married to Alan Miller — dubbed “Mr. Hedge Fund” by the British press — and is the mother of three children.
“I am not interested in being collegiate,” she told the FT. “I don’t mind being a lone figure.”
2. Deir Santos
Santos is a hairdresser, a Brexiter, and the only other claimant listed on the judgment. While less is known about him publicly — one of his lawyers described him in court as an “ordinary guy” — a statement was read out on his behalf on Thursday that stated he voted in favor of leaving the E.U., but he didn’t want the government to leapfrog over Parliament.
“I did not think it was right for the government to then just to bypass Parliament and try to take away my legal rights without consulting Parliament first,” he said in a statement read out by his lawyer David Greene. “So just four days after the referendum, I started these proceedings. And I am grateful to the court for the result we have had today. This is a victory for Parliamentary democracy.”
3. Charlie Mullins
Mullins, the high-profile founder of Pimlico Plumbers and a “remain” voter, has helped to fund the campaign against the government.
In a blog post last month, he said he was bankrolling the campaign in an effort to end the uncertainty in the business community.
“It doesn't matter if we lose, because the point is that at the end of the legal process we will have the certainty that business and the entire country desperately needs at this hugely important moment in our country's history,” he wrote.
But his side didn’t lose, and on Thursday he was outside the Royal Courts of Justice giving photographers a celebratory thumbs up next to his Rolls-Royce. Perhaps fitting for a man who runs a plumbing company, he told the Guardian that the government’s expected appeal of the ruling was tantamount to “throwing money down the drain.” He also said that he would continue to fund his side if the government appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court. “We’re on a winning horse, and a jockey doesn’t get off a winning horse,” he said.