The referendum in which Britons voted to leave the European Union is not legally binding, the Supreme Court was told on Wednesday during a hearing on who has the power to trigger Brexit.

The court is considering an appeal by the government against a ruling last month that ministers cannot invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the first formal step in the process of leaving the bloc, without parliament’s explicit approval.

If the Supreme Court upholds that ruling, the risk for the government is that proceedings in parliament could delay Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, watering down her Brexit strategy.

The case has inflamed passions in Britain, with pro-Brexit critics saying those challenging the government through the courts were seeking to thwart the will of the people.

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