UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/GEOFF PUGH
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/GEOFF PUGH

Belfast — On Thursday, Belfast’s high court dismissed a case arguing that a British exit from the EU without a withdrawal agreement would contravene Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord.

The case is one of a series across the UK challenging Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy. Johnson has said Britain must leave the EU on October 31, whether it secures a deal on an orderly exit.

Scotland’s highest court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks was unlawful and should be annulled, a verdict that will be appealed at the UK supreme court next week.

Rights campaigner Raymond McCord, one of three people backing the case, said he will fight the decision in an appeal that could be heard in Belfast as early as Friday and hopes to join the other challenges in the UK’s highest court next week.

Lawyers for McCord have argued that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the British-run province, but judge Bernard McCloskey said the case “trespassed upon the prohibited domain of the non-justiciable”.

“I consider the characterisation of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute,” McCloskey said in a 68-page written judgment. “Virtually all the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supra-national.”

A lawyer representing Johnson’s government said on Monday that under article 50 of the EU treaty, the obligation to negotiate was on Brussels rather than on the member state. UK legislation in 2017 and 2018 “assumes but does not require a withdrawal agreement,” said the lawyer, Tony McGleenan.

The Northern Ireland case had also sought a legal challenge to the suspension of parliament but the court decided to hear the wider case against “no deal”.

‘Groundbreaking legal cases’

UK parliament was prorogued, or suspended, on Monday until October 14, a move opponents argued was designed to allow the prime minister to push through a no-deal exit from the EU on October 31 with little scrutiny.

A separate legal challenge to the suspension, brought by British campaigner Gina Miller, will also be heard by the supreme court on Tuesday. McCord said Northern Ireland should also be present at the supreme court.

“These are groundbreaking legal cases and the plan is for all  these cases to meet in the supreme court,” Ciaran O’Hare, lawyer for Raymond McCord, told reporters.

McCord’s son was murdered by pro-British militants in 1997, just before the peace deal, which largely ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland and pro-British unionists. Some 3,600 people died in the conflict.

Reuters