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Attorney general John Larkin criticised by SDLP over position on Brexit

Attorney General John Larkin told the Supreme Court that the Northern Ireland Act made no mention the region’s membership of the EU. Picture by Hugh Russell
Staff Reporter

STORMONT'S chief legal adviser has been criticised for adopting a position that is contrary to the "expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland".

The criticism from SDLP leader Colum Eastwood came after Attorney General John Larkin addressed the Supreme Court in London.

Mr Larkin was speaking in support of the British government bid to overturn an earlier ruling which found that Prime Minister Theresa May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of parliament.

The attorney general is a notice party in the proceedings, which is somebody the court decides has a proper interest in the case and can ask the judge’s permission to participate.

During yesterday's hearing, Mr Larkin argued that none of the legislative or constitutional arrangements underpinning devolution should prevent the British government triggering Article 50.

He told the 11 judges that the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, which established devolution in the north, made no mention the region’s membership of the EU and that triggering Article 50 will ‘amend not a comma or a full stop of the act’.

"Can I simply say the claims that these (provisions) expressly or by necessary implication dislodged the prerogative is defeated by a simple reading of those provisions," the attorney general said.

Mr Eastwood branded the attorney general's position "utterly bizarre", given that a clear majority of people in the north voted to remain in the EU.

The SDLP leader said an opportunity for the executive to stand up for the north turned into a "abdication of responsibility".

He said the Scottish government's Lord Advocate James Wolffe was at the hearing under the direction of the Scottish government and was representing its will.

"Why is our own attorney general not advancing the expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the EU," the Foyle MLA said.


Mr Eastwood said Sinn Féin needed to tell the public whether the party were briefed by the attorney general in advance of his supreme court appearance.

"He was jointly appointed by them, they cannot wash their hands of responsibility for his actions," he said.

The attorney general's office did not comment last night.


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