Theresa May defends newspapers over attacks on article 50 judges

Theresa May has come to the defence of the British newspapers that attacked three high court judges after they ruled that the government could not trigger article 50 without a vote in parliament.

Speaking on board a flight to Delhi for her first bilateral meeting abroad, the prime minister said she believed the high court had every right to deliver its verdict but argued that journalists were similarly free to complain about it.

The decision and its response caused controversy after the judges were branded “enemies of the people” and the cabinet minister Sajid Javid said the ruling flew in the face of democracy and was an unacceptable attempt to frustrate the will of the people.

“I believe in and value the independence of our judiciary. I also value the freedom of our press,” she told reporters. “These both underpin our democracy.”

May also stressed that the government was determined to overturn the legal decision, which prevents her from starting the formal process of exiting the EU without a vote in the Commons and Lords.

She warned MPs and peers that it was their duty to respect the outcome of June’s referendum in favour of Brexit, as she highlighted that a similar legal case in Belfast had resulted in an opposite ruling.

“In terms of the legal situation, we have had two court cases in the UK. They have come out with different decisions. The Northern Irish court found in favour of the government; the high court found against the government. We think we have strong legal arguments and will be taking those arguments to the supreme court,” she said. “What’s important for MPs and peers is to recognise that parliament voted to give the decision on our membership of the European Union to the people on 23 June – a majority voted and we should now deliver.”

The prime minister also made clear that she would not compromise over the issue of immigration, which she saw as a red line when it came to her “end goals” in Brexit negotiations.

She hit back at comments from Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, that he would use the court ruling to pursue a soft Brexit, arguing that parliamentarians should be able to block a “more self-harming, hard Brexit”.

May responded: “I think the people spoke on the 23 June and I think it was an important aspect that underpinned people’s approach to that was a concern they had about control of movement of people from the EU into the UK. I believe it is important for the UK government to deliver on that.”

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