NI attorney general may become involved in Brexit case

John Larkin sets out view that challenges to Brexit appear to raise an issue of devolution

Northern Ireland's Attorney General could be set to become involved in landmark legal bids to stop the UK's planned departure from the European Union.

John Larkin QC has set out his view that the joint challenges to Brexit appear to raise an issue of devolution - a potential gateway for him to feature in proceedings.

Separate cases have been brought by the father of a loyalist paramilitary murder victim and a cross-party group of MLAs.

Raymond McCord and politicians including Alliance MLA David Ford, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd and Steven Agnew of the Green Party are seeking to judicially review the British Government's move towards leaving the EU.

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. Similar legal challenges are already under way in London.

All issues and implications specific to Nothern Ireland - including claims that leaving the EU will inflict damage on the peace process - are to be dealt in a two-day hearing at the High Court in Belfast next month.

But it emerged on Friday that the Attorney General has written to the parties indicating his belief the cases raise a devolution issue around constitutional arrangements.

The judge hearing the challenges, Mr Justice Maguire, will now have to decide whether to issue a formal devolution notice.

If he does so Mr Larkin, chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive, can then become involved. The judge is expected to rule on the point following a preliminary hearing next week where he will also confirm the scope of the hearings in Belfast.

At a review in the High Court on Friday, lawyers confirmed they were still in dispute over some of the issues specific to Northern Ireland.

Mr McCord’s legal team contend Brexit will undermine the UK’s domestic and international treaty obligations under the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

The campaigner, whose son Raymond McCord Jr was murdered by the UVF in north Belfast in 1997, is taking the case amid concerns that European peace money which goes towards victims of the Troubles may be discontinued.

The MLAs, backed by representatives of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, are also contesting the legality of the process.

They have identified a series of obligations that must be satisfied before Article 50 can be invoked, including requirements for Parliamentary legislation and the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the British government, identified a narrow point of dispute about whether the 1998 Nothern Ireland Act “displaces” any ability to trigger Brexit by Royal prerogative without an act of Parliament.

David Scoffield QC, for the MLAs, insisted the point should be dealt with by the High Court in Belfast. “The respondent is trying to shut us out,” he claimed.

Outside court Mr McCord responded to political representatives he said have described his challenge as a waste of money. “Come and listen to my legal team’s arguments, don’t just criticise because its Raymond McCord.”