Anti-prorogation case misguided, says PM’s QC

Litigant Raymond McCord (right),pictured with one of his lawyers outside Belfast High Court. Picture: David Young/PA
Litigant Raymond McCord (right),pictured with one of his lawyers outside Belfast High Court. Picture: David Young/PA
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Brexit laws impose no obligation on the United Kingdom to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the European Union, the High Court in Belfast heard yesterday.

Counsel for Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that once notification was given, the departure process became “inexorable”.

Responding in legal challenges to leaving without a deal, Tony McGleenan QC contended the legislation does not impose a duty on a member state to agree terms.

Dr McGleenan said: “Article 50 anticipated precisely the concept of a no-deal exit from the EU.”

His analysis came as legal attempts were stepped up have the Prime Minister compelled to ask for an extension beyond the current October 31 deadline for quitting Europe.

It was claimed that Mr Johnson may “sabotage” a new law to block a no-deal Brexit. Lawyers involved in three separate cases being dealt with in Northern Ireland pressed for either a judicial order or undertakings that he will abide by the requirement to seek a delay.

Barry Macdonald QC, representing one member of the public granted anonymity, told the court the application was in response to fast-moving developments, and indications from Downing Street of an unwillingness to comply.

He said: “In light of comments made over the weekend and indeed this morning to the effect that the Prime Minister will sabotage the new act once it comes into force, and will not comply with any requirement to seek an extension, declaratory relief is obviously not sufficient in this case.”

One of the cases has been brought by victims campaigner Raymond McCord.

The Belfast man, whose son Raymond Jr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, alleges that a no-deal Brexit will plunge Northern Ireland into chaos, economic misery and threaten the peace process.

According to his legal team the government are unlawfully trying to quit the EU without an agreement at any cost.

They claim that such an exit departure breaches the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which safeguards the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

But rejecting that assessment, Dr McGleenan argued that the courts should not even be dealing with issues of foreign affairs and international relations.

He submitted that the legal mechanism by which a member state can leave the EU does not even impose a requirement to give a reason.

“Once notification is provided, the procedure set out in Article 50 takes an inexorable course...there’s no obligation on the member state to negotiate. Article 50 in its entirety anticipates the possibility of withdrawal without an agreement.”

The hearing continues.