Unionists and nationalists clash on Brexit ruling

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Unionist and nationalist parties in Northern Ireland have given sharply contrasting reaction to today’s Supreme Court ruling on Brexit.

Judges decided that Parliament must vote on whether the government can formally start the Brexit process.

The ruling means The Prime Minister cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing. However they are expected to do so before the government’s 31 March deadline.

Judges also ruled that the devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales do not need a say in the process.

East Antrim DUP MP and member of the Westminster Brexit committee, Sammy Wilson, said it was “disappointing” that the Supreme Court had not found in the Government’s favour and thus gave “anti-democratic losers within the remain camp to conduct a parliamentary guerrilla warfare against the decision by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU”.

He welcomed the fact that devolved administrations would have no veto on the process an said his party’s MPs would continue to back Brexit.

But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams’s response was to call on the Irish government to play a role in “defending the rights of Irish citizens in the North”.

He added: “The Taoiseach and the Irish Government must uphold the Remain vote in the North. And to argue for the North to be accorded a special designated status within the EU. There are precedents for this.”

Ulster Unionist MPs Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan said the ruling gave “welcome clarity”.

They added: “The Supreme Court has ruled that Parliament must have a say on the triggering of Article 50. However we recognise that Parliament voted to give the people of the United Kingdom the opportunity to vote in a straight in/out referendum.”

They will vote to support Brexit in Parliament and welcomed the fact that devolved administrations would have no say in the process, they said.

“The challenge now is to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland.”

But SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA branded the judgement “significantly undermines the value placed on the democratic mandate of our Assembly”.

He added: “Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, yet the Northern Ireland Assembly is being denied any role or rights in the upcoming negotiations with the European Union.”

Although the Supreme Court disagreed with the view that there is a legal requirement to gain legislative consent from Stormont, he said, it remains the SDLP view that it is a political requirement to gain that consent. This will be top of the SDLP agenda in any post-election negotiations, he said.

Alliance MLA David Ford also welcomed the Supreme Court ruling.

“Brexit has such fundamental implications for the wider UK and specifically Northern Ireland, it would have been an affront to democracy to if the formal triggering of Article 50 was not subject to detailed scrutiny and accountability by Parliament,” he said.

“This means the Government should now produce a much more detailed plan and their Bill may be subject to amendments before it can move through Parliament, he said.

However, the decision to exclude the devolved assemblies from the process raises significant issues for the future of devolution across the UK, he added.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, a plaintiff in a legal challenge against Brexit, welcomed the outcome.

“This decision upholds democratic principles and provides an opportunity for consideration of the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It is important that all Northern Ireland’s MPs and Lords do their job and ensure that our special status is recognised as the only UK region that will have a land border with an EU member state.”