David Trimble formally begins legal challenge to backstop
Claims backstop would allow Dublin exercise ‘governmental functions’ in N Ireland
Former first minister of Ireland Lord David Trimble argues the backstop is in contravention of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Union of Ireland Act 1800 and the Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty
Former Ulster unionist first minister Lord David Trimble has formally begun an action challenging the legality of the backstop designed to prevent a hard border, it was confirmed on Tuesday.
Lord Trimble, who along with John Hume won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in achieving the 1998 Belfast Agreement, is contending that the backstop is illegal under the terms of the agreement.
English legal firm Griffin Law, on behalf of Lord Trimble and others, has formally written to the British government’s legal department ahead of an impending judicial review, which the government must respond to by February 22nd.
The Guido Fawkes political website reported how three possible defendants to the action are identified as the British prime minister Theresa May, the minister for the cabinet office David Lidington and northern secretary Karen Bradley.
In the case, which is being financed through crowdfunding, Lord Trimble is arguing the backstop is in contravention of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Union of Ireland Act 1800 and the Belfast Agreement.
Those opposed to the backstop argue it would create a border down the Irish Sea and dilute the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
This, it is contended, is in violation of the consent principle of the Belfast Agreement whereby any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only happen by a majority vote of the people of Northern Ireland.
In Lord Trimble’s submission he argues that the “the Republic of Ireland, through the EU, would be exercising governmental functions effectively, as regards Northern Ireland, through the single market and the customs union, even while the UK remained the sovereign power”.
Other parties to the legal challenge are historians Lord Paul Bew and Ruth Dudley Edwards and Ulster Unionist Party councillor Jeff Dudgeon.
Case of Gibraltar
The applicants want Dublin and London to devise and agree alternatives to the backstop through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference which was established under the Belfast Agreement.
They also argue that as the EU has permitted the UK and Spain to sign a bilateral agreement regarding Gibraltar in relation to Brexit that therefore the backstop issue also can be resolved bilaterally between Britain and Ireland.
Lord Trimble was not available for comment on Tuesday night but Ms Dudley Edwards confirmed to The Irish Times that legal proceedings have now formally begun.
The applicants, who call themselves the Defend the Belfast Agreement group, so far have raised more than £24,000 to meet the legal cost of the challenge.
In an article in Monday’s Belfast Telegraph, Ms Dudley Edwards wrote, “At best, we will throw a legal spanner in the words leading to a destructive backstop. At worst we have given the [British] government ammunition to fight a permanent imposition.”