(Bloomberg) -- Police in riot vans gathered in London Monday to face a small crowd of protesters for and against Brexit -- and one pro-Europe dog draped in an EU flag -- as the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on how the U.K. should manage its departure from the European Union.
The riot teams in Parliament Square were in response to caustic rhetoric that included death threats to fund manager Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to follow through on the results of the June referendum. Safety concerns also caused lead pro-Brexit politician Nigel Farage to cancel a supporters’ march to the court.
The Supreme Court will hold three more days of hearings this week in the most constitutionally significant case in its seven-year history. It consolidated cases from lower courts in Belfast and London and will decide whether May can start the country’s exit from the EU without allowing a Parliamentary vote. The increased security came as the lower court judges who blocked May’s plan to unilaterally trigger Brexit were called “Enemies of the People” by a tabloid.
"Various individuals have received threats of serious violence and unpleasant abuse in e-mails and other electronic communications," Lord David Neuberger, the court’s president, said while giving his opening remarks. "Threatening and abusing people because they are exercising their fundamental right to go to court undermines the rule of law."
The terms of Brexit and whether it will happen at all has dominated Britain’s newspaper headlines and political discourse since a three-judge High Court panel ruled last month that Parliament must be involved in the process. The government’s appeal is scheduled to last four days, although the process was slow as lawyers debated the finer legal points behind May’s stance.
‘Where’s the Democracy?’
Daniel Holland, a 32-year-old leave voter, said authorities in Brussels, the EU capital, had too much control over Britain.
“I’ve made my vote and it doesn’t count, where’s the democracy?" Holland, who owns a catering company, said. "We’re having laws made by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels that don’t know what’s going on in this country. How can they make laws on situations they don’t know or understand?"
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was London mayor during the vote, former education secretary Michael Gove and Farage, who stepped down from the U.K. Independence Party after the referendum, framed their pro-Brexit campaign as an opportunity to cut the influence of EU rules in domestic affairs.
The distrust of the courts culminated last month when the Daily Mail featured pictures of the three lower-court judges over an all-capital headline of "ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE" on its front page while the Daily Telegraph billed the ruling as the "Judges Versus the People."
Miller arrived at about 9:30 a.m. Monday flanked by lawyers, police and security guards. Those queuing to enter the court chanted "Thank you, Gina" as boos rang out from outside the barriers.
While most protesters were split into pro- and anti-Brexit camps, others had more nuanced reasons for being there. One man’s banner read "Crawley Council took my taxi license.” Another questioned whether Boris Johnson might really be a secret agent for Russia.
Anti-Brexit protesters outnumbered their competitors, with most taking umbrage with what they called the "racist nature" of the Leave campaign’s anti-immigration platform. Alba -- dressed in a blue t-shirt transformed into the EU flag -- sat with a group of anti-leave protesters near the square.
"Brexit is only going one way and that’s racism and increased anti-immigrant bigotry that will tear up and divide our communities," anti-leave campaigner Antonia Bright said. "It’s a completely negative and racist direction for our society to go in."
Anti-Brexit campaigners dressed as wig-wearing judges wielding plastic swords drove around the square in a bus decorated with the flag saying "this one’s for Gina" and the tag line "No Lies On This Bus.” The vehicle was intended to mimic the Leave campaign bus, which was decorated with the now infamous slogan claiming the U.K. sends 350 million pounds ($445 million) a week to the EU. Farage and Johnson later backed down on the possibility of that much in funds being spend on the U.K.’s National Health Service.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that May would file legislation just 16 words long to reduce the chances of it being amended should the Supreme Court rule against the government. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Saturday he would seek to amend any legislation to ensure continued links to EU markets and worker rights.
Labour politicians including Baroness Oona King have said the public were misled by Tory promises about the funding available to shore up the NHS and other services as well as Britain’s ability to restrict immigration numbers. Pro-Brexit protesters disagreed.
The "public weren’t expecting a bed of roses when they voted to leave the EU, they had every sort of bad warning given to them and they still went ahead and voted," said Julia Waller, 71. "To now say they didn’t know what they voted for and they should know the full details is a bit disingenuous because they went in with their eyes open, expecting the worst."