Tuesday 20 February 2018

First legal test for Brexit fails in North

The impact of Brexit on the Irish border remains uncertain Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The impact of Brexit on the Irish border remains uncertain Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Michael McHugh

Northern Ireland's High Court has dismissed the UK's first legal challenge to the Brexit decision.

Mr Justice Paul Maguire ruled that there was nothing in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to prevent the UK government from triggering exit negotiations with the EU.

He said the implications for Northern Ireland were still uncertain.

A cross-party group of politicians had claimed the Stormont Assembly should have a say on whether to begin talks.

Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, had a separate Brexit challenge heard alongside that of the politicians at the Belfast court.

Mr Justice Maguire said: "While the wind of change may be about to blow, the precise direction in which it will blow cannot yet be determined so there is a level of uncertainty, as evidenced by the discussion about how the Northern Ireland land border with Ireland was affected by withdrawal from the EU."

Some 56pc of Northern Irish voters backed Remain but some unionist-dominated areas supported Leave.

The largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionists, campaigned for an exit.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Obviously we welcome the court's judgment this morning. It agrees that we can proceed to trigger Article 50 as planned.

"But I think what's important to stress, one of the concerns that was raised during this court case is that there is no reason to think that the outcome of the referendum will do anything to undermine the rock-solid commitment that the Government has to the settlement that was set out in the Belfast Agreement and to the people of Northern Ireland."

Mr McCord said he was disappointed but vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court - the UK's highest court.

The politicians said they had a mandate from the majority in Northern Ireland who opposed Brexit to continue to oppose it.

The Belfast case was heard earlier this month and concentrated on the impact on the Northern Ireland constitution of Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed action.

Mr Justice Maguire said he was not aware of any specific provision in the Good Friday Agreement or the 1998 Northern Ireland Act which established that UK withdrawal from the EU required the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

He said if such a limitation existed, it would be reasonable to have expected it to have been highlighted before the June referendum.

The judge said it was difficult to see how the court could overlook the fact the UK parliament had retained the ability to legislate for Northern Ireland without any special procedure.

He said the royal prerogative power of the prime minister to launch negotiations was not one in which the court could intervene, adding: "Any suggestion that a legitimate expectation can overwhelm the structure of the legislative scheme is not viable."

The judge said: "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a decision ...following a national referendum is anything other than high policy.

"Accordingly, it seems to fit well into the area of prerogative powers which are unsuitable for judicial review."

Irish Independent

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