NI High Court Brexit challenge to be fast-tracked

Raymond McCord attends Belfast High Court
Raymond McCord attends Belfast High Court
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A High Court challenge to the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on the NI peace process is set to be fast-tracked - despite judicial doubts over the available time.

As Mr Justice McCloskey listed victims campaigner Raymond McCord’s action for a hearing on Friday, he indicated that unfolding events at Westminster could still derail those plans.

Uncertainty surrounds the case due to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ongoing battle with MPs attempting to stop him taking the UK out of the Europe on October 31 without an agreement.

A further court review in Belfast took place ahead of a Commons vote on an attempt to pass a bill seeking another delay to Brexit if no deal is in place by October 19.

Mr Justice McCloskey described the legislative move and the possibility of a general election as “incognitos” which may yet impact on proceedings.

When it was put to him that if passed the bill would still require Royal assent, he, replied: “Who knows, the monarch might for the first time in living history refuse.

“This is Brexit land... the government might miraculously recover it’s majority, or the current minority might be increased by defections from the government.

“The one thing that is clearer than ever is that nothing is remotely clear. Everything is abundantly unclear, and this lack of clarity is likely to endure for some considerable time.”

Proceedings in Belfast which have been brought forward from the original hearing date of September 16 are now set to focus only on the potential impact on the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

A separate challenge to the Prime Minister’s plans to suspend parliament before the October 31 exit day are being dealt with by the courts in England and Scotland. All of the cases are expected to end up in the Supreme Court.

Mr McCord’s action is one of three applications for judicial review being heard in Northern Ireland.

His lawyers contend that quitting the EU without an agreement breaches the Withdrawal Act which safeguards the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

“That’s our case in a nutshell,” barrister Ronan Lavery QC confirmed today.

Amid the breakneck pace, counsel for the government and Prime Minister outlined attempts to meet the new deadline.

Tony McGleenan QC said: “Our response is being prepared, it will require clearance at a high level.

“In terms of the imponderables and what may change, clearly there are a number of variables, all of which could have an impact on these proceedings.”

Mr Justice McCloskey responded that it would be “manifestly more reasonable and sensible” to deal with the cases on a less urgent basis - should further political developments allow.

Mapping out the anticipated series of hearings and appeals up to the Supreme Court before adjourning until Thursday when the state of affairs will be reassessed, he added: “The more one reflects on that vista... all sandwiched into six or seven working days, the more one realises it’s not really achievable.

“However, needs must. So be it.”