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Brexit Vote Faces Challenge in UK High Court

EU membership supporters hold EU flags on the first day of hearings in a lawsuit on whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s government can trigger Britain's exit from the EU without an act of parliament, at the High Court, in London, Oct. 13, 2016.

Activists in Britain are challenging Prime Minister Theresa May’s authority to trigger an exit from the European Union without a parliamentary vote.

The High Court took up the legal challenge Thursday and its decision is considered to be the most consequential constitutional ruling in a generation.

On one side, the government says May has the authority to begin negotiations for Britain's exit from the EU without a vote in the House of Commons, thanks to a type of executive privilege called “royal prerogative.”

At the same time, activists, including investment manager Gina Miller, are arguing that the Brexit process cannot begin without a vote in parliament.

Miller, the lead claimant in the case, said the lawsuit is not meant to keep Britain in the EU, but rather it is meant to uphold the democratic process.

‘About democracy’

“It's about democracy,” she told the Associated Press. “To my mind, the most dangerous precedent we'd be setting is that a government can overrule parliament and not consult it when we are making decisions about people's rights. And that to me is a very, very dangerous place.”

In Britain's June 23 referendum, voters narrowly chose to leave the EU by a 52-48 percent margin.

Protesters from both sides of the issue gathered outside the doors of the High Court in London Thursday morning in anticipation of the court hearing, which is scheduled to last until Monday.

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, May said Wednesday she would allow parliament to debate the issues surrounding Brexit, though she made clear the outcome of the referendum would not change.

“The UK will be leaving the European Union,” she said. “We’re not asking ourselves what bits of membership we want to retain.