Brexit could have ‘catastrophic’ impact on peace process, court hears

Posted By: October 04, 2016

Distributed by Irish National Caucus

Victims campaigner Raymond McCord is mounting a legal challenge to Brexit. 

Picture by Hugh Russell

Irish News. Monday, October 4, 2016

THE United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union could have a “catastrophic” impact on the Northern Ireland peace process, the High Court heard today.

Lawyers for the father of a loyalist paramilitary murder victim predicted Brexit would cause constitutional upheaval amid renewed calls for a united Ireland.

With Northern Ireland having voted to remain in the EU, a judge was also told the Good Friday Agreement has given its public sole sovereignty on the issue.

Ronan Lavery QC said: “A change so profound as withdrawing Northern Ireland from the European Union requires the consent of the people of Northen Ireland.”

His client, victims campaigner Raymond McCord, is mounting a landmark legal challenge to Brexit.

Politicians including Alliance assembly member David Ford, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein assembly member John O’Dowd and Steven Agnew of the Green Party are also seeking to judicially review the British Government’s move towards quitting the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced she will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal process for confirming the UK’s departure, by the end of March 2017. But proceedings underway in Belfast claim the move is unlawful without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.

Even though the June 23 referendum backed Brexit, a 56 percent majority of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to remain.

Mr. McCord, whose son Raymond McCord Jr was killed by the UVF in north Belfast in 1997, believes they have a legal right to resist being forced out.

His barrister argued that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement led to a transfer of sovereignty over Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

“Only the people of Northern Ireland can decide whether there will or will not be a change in the constitutional status,” Mr. Lavery argued.

Mr. Justice Maguire was told Brexit would have the greatest impact on the only UK region which shares a land border with the rest of the EU.

The Northern Irish situation was described as a microcosm of the European project to render 19th Century notions of nationalism irrelevant and lead to borders disappearing.

Concerns were also raised that a departure from the EU could lead to a repeal of the Human Rights Act and possibly even withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr. McCord, who refers to himself as British and a Unionist, is now considering applying for an Irish passport, the court heard.

His lawyer raised alternative potential consequences for those on either side of the political divide.

Nationalists seeking a united Ireland may have their aspirations impeded by the creation of a “hard border”, it was claimed.

But Mr. Lavery went on to suggest: “What this upheaval has also caused is the Nationalists call for a border poll and a very real threat to the Union as it exists.”

He questioned whether Northern Ireland would be incapable of “succeeding” as an entity and be forced into a united Ireland.

“One doesn’t know what way history will turn, but one thing is very real: withdrawal from the European Union could have a catastrophic effect on the peace process and the delicate constitutional balance we have reached.”

Mr. Lavery argued that Northern Ireland has the power to veto the UK’s exit until a proper political negotiation takes place.

Even those who voted to leave should back the contention that the views of the Northern Irish people are sovereign, he said.

Drawing an analogy with the UK being a marriage, the barrister continued: “The husband can’t sell the family home without the wife’s consent.”

In closing submissions, he insisted it cannot be right to treat the views of the Northern Ireland public as irrelevant.

“The relationship between these islands has matured in the last 20 years,” Mr. Lavery added.

“These are not the principles or morals which a modern, western social democracy should espouse.”

Counsel for the MLAs, whose case is backed by representatives of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, challenged the ability to invoke an EU departure by royal prerogative without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.

David Scoffield QC pointed out that three leaders of political parties and a number of former Stormont ministers had joined forces in the legal action.

“This is a cross-party and cross-community piece of litigation with shared concerns which led them to adopt a common cause,” he said.

Mr. Scoffield went on to set out four main arguments:
• An act of Parliament is required before Article 50 can be triggered.

• • •

A legislative consent motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly should also be obtained.
Even if parliamentary approval is not needed, a requirement to take Northern Ireland’s specific situation into account puts constraints on the royal prerogative.

Before Article 50 is triggered the Northern Ireland Office should carry out an equality impact assessment on Brexit.

The hearing continues.