NI’s specific issues may ‘slip through cracks in GB’

The UK voted to quit the EU by 52% to 48% on June 23, 2016
The UK voted to quit the EU by 52% to 48% on June 23, 2016

A landmark legal challenge to Brexit will examine the idea that the Good Friday Agreement overrides an entitlement to launch Brexit without a parliamentary vote, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Maguire rejected arguments that the impact of the peace process on the ability to quit the EU by royal prerogative should be dealt with at separate court proceedings in London.

His determination clears the way for a cross-party group of MLAs to mount a fuller case at next week’s hearing in Belfast.

Raymond McCord, a victims’ campaigner whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, is also mounting a bid to stop Brexit.

They claim it would be unlawful to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the formal process for confirming the UK’s exit – without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.

Mr McCord is taking the case amid fears EU peace money for Troubles victims may be axed.

The MLAs have identified a series of obligations they say must be satisfied before Article 50 can be invoked.

These include requirements for Parliamentary legislation, and consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The arguments from Mr McCord and the MLAs will all be heard at a two-day High Court hearing.

But the legal teams were in disagreement over the full scope of the issues to be decided by Mr Justice Maguire.

Counsel for the Government wanted a stay on claims that the royal prerogative is “displaced” by provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, and more.

Those issues will be dealt with during challenges in London, it was contended.

Rejecting this, the judge said: “I’m uncertain that what I shall describe as the Northern Irish issues... will necessarily be dealt with in the England and Wales case.”

He added: “There may be a risk they will not get the full attention they deserve, and could fall between the cracks.”

Outside court Mr McCord welcomed the preliminary ruling.

He said: “The judge wants to see that the Northern Irish issues are dealt with and the voice of the people is listened to.”

Mr McCord continued: “Brexit is like marriage whereby if the wife wants to sell the house, she requires the husband’s consent.

“What I mean by this is that the British Prime Minister is saying that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but what she has to understand is that she requires the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

“We voted to remain within the European Union and our vote should count for something.

“I also believe that the Prime Minister should seek the consent of Parliament before invoking Article 50.”

His solicitor, Ciaran O’Hare, added: “We are a devolved nation and we say that there cannot be any Brexit when this clearly would be at odds with the majority vote in Northern Ireland.

“Essentially, any fundamental change to the Constitution of Northern Ireland requires the mandate of the people.

“We welcome today’s ruling and look forward to making robust legal arguments in court next week.”