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London High Court to deliver verdict on Brexit case

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(Reuters) - London's High Court will deliver its eagerly awaited verdict on Thursday on whether British lawmakers, rather than the government, must trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union, lawyers involved in the case said.

The court heard a challenge last month from campaigners who argued Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers do not have the authority to invoke Article 50 of the E.U. Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism by which a nation can leave the bloc, without the explicit backing of parliament.

Prime Minister May has said she would invoke Article 50 by the end of March next year, starting a two-year divorce procedure, and stated that, while members of Parliament would have the chance to debate the exit plans, they would not get a vote on triggering the process.

Sterling plunged in the wake of May's announcement, shedding about 5% against the dollar and hitting its lowest levels in over three decades.

The court case is being closely monitored by market players who believe the more parliament is involved, the greater the chance there is of a "soft Brexit," where Britain stays in or remains close to the E.U. single market.

Lawyers representing several challengers said on Wednesday that the verdict of the Lord Chief Justice John Thomas and two other senior judges would be handed down on Thursday morning.

Whichever side loses is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court, the U.K.'s highest judicial body, which is likely to hear the case in December.

During the three-day hearing last month, government lawyers said it was established constitutional convention for the executive to make or withdraw from international treaties using the ancient power of "royal prerogative."

The Attorney General, the government's top lawyer, told the court that once invoked, the process to leave the E.U. was irrevocable, a contrary view to that held by Donald Tusk, the European Council president who will oversee Brexit talks.

The challengers, whose lead claimant is investment manager Gina Miller, argued that rights granted to Britons under the European Communities Act of 1972 cannot be taken away by the executive without the approval of parliament, the sovereign body under Britain's constitution.

If their court challenge is ultimately successful, the government could be forced to pass legislation authorizing Article 50 to be triggered, requiring a vote by lawmakers, the majority of whom voted to Britain to remain in the E.U.