REUTERS - Lawyers have advised the British government that the prime minister does not need parliamentary approval to trigger the procedure to leave the European Union, government minister Oliver Letwin said on Tuesday.
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Formal talks on Britain's exit cannot start until it triggers Article 50 of the EU treaty, after which it has two years to negotiate the terms of its exit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has announced his resignation but is staying in power until his ruling Conservatives choose a new leader, says he will leave it to his successor to notify Brussels that Britain is exiting the EU.
Some lawmakers who voted to stay in the European Union are holding on to hope that parliament could delay or even block any attempt to trigger those talks. A London law firm, Mishcon de Reya, has launched a legal case to demand the government obtain parliament's approval. European leaders have called on Britain to invoke article 50 quickly to reduce uncertainty.
Letwin, put in charge of a special unit to lay out the options for Britain's incoming prime minister on the EU, told lawmakers that while he knew there were conflicting opinions over who would or could trigger Article 50, the government had been advised that the decision lay with the prime minister.
"I am advised by the government lawyers that it is a prerogative power," he told a committee of lawmakers, adding that he was not a lawyer or "offering any opinion".
He said the issue would be decided in court in response to the Mishcon de Reya case.
Letwin also said the question of parliamentary approval was "entirely academic" as both the upper and lower houses would have to approve repealing the European Communities Act, under which Britain joined the bloc. He did not make clear when this would take place in the process.
Global law firm Dentons said the decision on who has the authority to invoke Article 50 could ultimately end up in the European Court of Justice - a focus of criticism by those who campaigned to leave the EU.