Brexit and Northern Ireland

Sir, – Newton Emerson writes that "Brexit will not affect one word of its [the Belfast Agreement's] provisions, as found by the [UK] Supreme Court" ("The DUP has played hardball and lost", Opinion & Analysis, March 1st). These statements, and others like them by politicians and commentators in London, are misleading and, given the sensitivity of these issues at this time, need to be corrected.

The Supreme Court in the Miller case did not consider whether taking Northern Ireland out of the EU would breach the Belfast Agreement. The Supreme Court did not engage with the agreement in any significant respect and therefore did not find that the agreement would be unaffected.

The issue before the court was whether the use of the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval and the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly was contrary to the European Communities Act 1972 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

The Supreme Court held that it was contrary to the 1972 Act, and that it was therefore unnecessary to determine the Northern Ireland Act point. But the court agreed that the reason why the 1972 Act prevented the royal prerogative from being used would also apply to the Northern Ireland Act. That was because the court recognised that EU law is, indeed, deeply embedded in the Northern Ireland Act.


Brexit does extensively affect the principal UK Act that brought parts of the agreement into UK law, and therefore the operation of the agreement itself. Indeed, this was accepted by the Northern Ireland High Court when the court subsequently considered the implications of the Miller judgment. It is also the reason why the legislation that subsequently authorised Article 50 to be triggered had to explicitly override the Northern Ireland Act.– Yours, etc,



Professor of Human

Rights and Equality Law,

Queen’s University


A chara, – Theresa May, the UK prime minister, has announced that, “The draft legal text the commission have published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea. No UK prime minister could ever agree to it.”

Surely she meant to add that the same is of course subject to the democratically expressed will of the people both in Northern Ireland and the Republic? Otherwise where would that leave the Belfast Agreement and even democracy itself? – Is mise,




Sir, – In its basic form, bread is comprised of several unappetising ingredients. However, blended together and heat applied, you get the staff of life. What is missing to the Border question is a fourth ingredient to the “mutually irreconcilable” “three stated ambitions” and a bit of applied intellectual heat (“Brexit: Brussels forces a reckoning on the Border”, Editorial, March 1st).

With agreement from the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, the whole of Northern Ireland could be declared a joint special economic zone. The EU allows for these and there are many in existence; indeed, the first was at Shannon airport. It could be administered by the North/South Ministerial Council. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – If Angela Merkel and her Brussels minions cared a jot for the people of Britain and Ireland, and bearing in mind the issue of the Irish Border, she would willingly offer a free trade agreement to the UK.

And if, as it seems, she does not care a jot, then surely she must realise that in this, she has no viable alternative option? Already, she will go down in history as the person who, by refusing to treat with David Cameron, effectively drove the UK out of the EU. Now, she is in danger of wrecking the hard-won Belfast Agreement, and damaging the economies of both parties, especially that of the Republic of Ireland. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – It is refreshing to hear the wise opinions of John Major again (“John Major proposes second Brexit referendum”, News, February 28th). He is, of course, absolutely right to call for the UK parliament to be allowed to hold a “decisive” vote on the final Brexit deal and to possibly even “order” another referendum. If only someone “boring” like him had been Tory prime minister in 2016 instead of the more dynamic but also woefully hubristic David Cameron. Undoubtedly, then, the ill-thought out and stupid idea of offering the British people a blunt in/out vote on European Union membership would never have got off the ground. – Yours, etc,


Arbour Hill,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Brexit reminds me of an old-time Sputnik orbiting the planet, periodically coming into view, frequently making the headlines and always “up there” in the public consciousness. Its current orbit brings the “draft withdrawal agreement”, while forthcoming cycles will flush us with a continuation of hopeless narratives, that is, until a couple of fundamental basics are understood and unequivocally confronted. When a member state leaves the EU the benefits of the union cease, otherwise the abiding members will be dishonourably compromised. Leaving the customs union means a hard border between the departing state and the EU frontier. No number of dizzying orbits will change these facts nor, indeed, should they. – Yours, etc,