Legal challenge to ask if Belfast Agreement may trump Brexit

Cross-party group of MLAs seek to judicially review UK’s move towards leaving EU

Stormont Assembly: A cross-party group of Stormont MLAs is seeking to judicially review the British government’s move towards leaving the EU.  File photograph: PA Photos

Stormont Assembly: A cross-party group of Stormont MLAs is seeking to judicially review the British government’s move towards leaving the EU. File photograph: PA Photos

 

A landmark legal challenge will examine claims that the Belfast Agreement overrides any right by the British government to quit the European Union without a House of Commons vote, a High Court judge ruled today.

In Belfast, Mr Justice Maguire rejected arguments that concerns about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland’s peace process should be parked and dealt with at separate proceedings in London.

In his ruling, the judge said issues specific to Northern Ireland could “fall between the cracks” during actions due to come before the English and Welsh courts.

His determination clears the way for a cross-party group of MLAs to mount a fuller case at next week’s hearing in Belfast, including former Alliance leader, MLA David Ford and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Along with Sinn Féin Assemblyman John O’Dowd and Steven Agnew of the Green Party, they are seeking to judicially review the British government’s move towards leaving the EU.

Cut off funding

Raymond McCord, a campaigner for victims whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, is also mounting a bid to stop Brexit on the grounds it will cut off EU funding for NI community organisations.

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’s lawyers claim the decision of a majority of voters in Northern Ireland to vote to remain in the EU undermines prime minister Theresa May’s ability to trigger Article 50.

In their legal challenge, the MLAs argue that legislation would have to be passed by the Commons, with the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, before Article 50 could be triggered.

Royal prerogative

Counsel for the British government wanted a stay on claims that the royal prerogative - the mechanism the prime minister intends to use to trigger the exit negotiation - has been “displaced” by the Belfast Agreement.

Such matters can be dealt with during the challenges in London, they contended, though Mr Justice Maguire said he was “ uncertain” that “the Northern Irish issues” would be properly 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.