Brexit

No-deal Brexit will lead to chaos, economic misery and seriously imperil the peace process, court told

Raymond McCord argues that a no-deal Brexit breaches the Withdrawal Act which safeguards the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Picture by Hugh Russell

A no-deal Brexit will lead to chaos, economic misery and seriously imperil the peace process, the High Court in Belfast has heard.

A lawyer for victims campaigner Raymond McCord claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government are unlawfully trying to quit the European Union without an agreement "at any costs".

Mr McCord is challenging any departure on those terms, alleging that it would breach the Good Friday Agreement.

As legal attempts to block the UK from exiting the EU without a deal at the end of October got underway, dire consequences were predicted.

Ronan Lavery QC said: "To leave without an agreement would create chaos, economic misery and a real threat to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"It would be madness."

His client's case is one of three applications for judicial review being heard in Northern Ireland.

With separate challenges to the Prime Minister's plans to suspend parliament before the October 31 exit day being dealt with in England and Scotland, all of the proceedings are expected to end up in the Supreme Court for final determination.

Mr McCord's legal team contend that a departure without an agreement breaches the Withdrawal Act which safeguards the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

They further claimed Downing Street's moves to prorogue parliament are unlawful, backing a description by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow that it amounted to a "constitutional outrage".

Mr Lavery went on: "That is an important part of the policy and scheme being pursued by the government at any costs.

"It demonstrates the lengths the government will go to in pursuit of a no-deal Brexit."

The Withdrawal Act contains no specific provisions for exiting on those terms, the barrister insisted.

Instead, he submitted, approval is required by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

"Our very simple proposition is, when you take this piece of legislation, nothing sanctioned or authorised the executive to take this drastic step of leaving the EU without a deal," he said.

"That needs to be expressly sanctioned by parliament, and it hasn't been."

The court was told that the legislation contains obligations specifically directed towards the people of Northern Ireland.

"It can't mean generous to the pursuit of English nationalism," Mr Lavery added.

"It would be a very unbalanced constitution of the United Kingdom if that were to trump Northern Ireland's interests."

At an earlier hearing he raised the possibility of seeking to have the Prime Minister ordered to attend for cross-examination about his administration's "candour" on its Brexit strategy.

A lawyer in another of the challenges, brought by a member of the public granted anonymity, raised the issue of affidavit evidence dealing with claims that any asserted negotiations between Mr Johnson and Brussels are "a sham".

Barry Macdonald QC also referred to Mr Johnson having "no intention" of asking for a Brexit extension - despite the passage of a bill to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Mr McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, has taken legal action against Brexit before.

In 2016 the Belfast man claimed that the Good Friday peace accord gave the people of Northern Ireland sovereignty to decide on their future.

Ultimately the Supreme Court held that it covered the region's place in the UK, not the EU.

As the campaigner's latest challenge continued, his solicitor confirmed that judgment is anticipated early next week.

Ciaran O'Hare, of McIvor Farrell law firm, said: "These are unprecedented times. My client is gravely concerned that time is running out and it seems that we are on the road to a no-deal Brexit, which would be utterly devastating for the good people of Northern Ireland."

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