Northern Ireland legal challenge to Brexit heard in Belfast High Court

Nathanael Williams

Cross party group heads to court for first day of legal challenge to Brexit 

LEGAL experts, human rights activists and politicians have gone to the High Court in Belfast to begin a legal challenge that would seek to ensure that the UK Government would need the consent of the Northern Irish assembly in Stormont to enforce its exit from the European Union (EU).

They arrived this morning with the belief that it would be unlawful to trigger Article 50 without Northern Irish consent and that Brexit would undermine the Good Friday agreement, the peace process and other fundamental rights.

This follows concerns that European peace process funding crucial to healing the wounds of the Troubles and of rebuilding the economy of Northern Ireland may be discontinued after Brexit. 

“Constitutional change can’t be imposed on people of Northern Ireland.” Ronan Lavery

Ronan Lavery, QC for the cross party group which includes those from unionist, nationalist and alliance political groups, said: “The Good Friday agreement and Northern Ireland Act mean that the people of Northern Ireland are sovereign. Constitutional change can’t be imposed on people of Northern Ireland. 

“Change so profound requires consent. Brexit could have catastrophic effect on peace and delicate constitutional balance reached.”

The challenge was first brought by Raymond McCord, a victim’s rights campaigner and Ulster protestant whose son was killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1997.

The Belfast cases will focus on the impact of leaving the EU specifically for Northern Ireland, but in England and Wales a separate legal challenge in London will look at whether an act of parliament is needed to trigger Article 50.

“Change so profound requires consent. Brexit could have catastrophic effect on peace and delicate constitutional balance reached.” Ronan Lavery

The questions Brexit poses for Northern Ireland focus on how the 300 mile border with the Irish Republic, the UK’s only land border with the European Union, will be administrated once the UK leaves the EU. But additionally trade and security are issued likely to heavily affected. If there were no EU and UK post Brexit agreement on free trade in goods, there would be some British taxes on imports from Ireland, and vice versa.

Despite 55 per cent of the vote in Northern Ireland being for Remain, its political leaders are divided on Brexit with Sinn Féin, the onetime political wing of the IRA, supporting a position to stay in, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) wanting an a quick Brexit.

Economically this challenge carries significant weight, as a third of Northern Ireland’s exports in 2015 at £2.1bn went to the Republic of Ireland which remains in the single market.

Picture courtesy of Amanda Ferguson

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