Brexit

Court of Appeal hearing told that 'no-deal' would unlawfully undermine Northern Ireland's constitutional position

Raymond McCord. Picture by Hugh Russell.

A NO-DEAL Brexit would unlawfully undermine Northern Ireland's constitutional position and inflict clear damage on north-south relations, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

Counsel for a victims campaigner also claimed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears intent on using "every tool at his disposal" to avoid seeking an extension to the deadline for leaving the EU.

Belfast man Raymond McCord is attempting to overturn the dismissal of his legal bid to block the UK from exiting without an agreement on October 31.

A judge ruled last week that his case, and two related challenges, involved political matters on which the courts should not intervene.

But Mr McCord's lawyers argued yesterday that exiting without a deal breaches the European Union (Withdrawal) Act which protects the Good Friday Agreement.

Ronan Lavery QC submitted: "Those safeguard will be emptied of their content if the Prime Minister pursues his course."

An agreement that will recognise Northern Ireland's constitutional position must be implemented, he insisted.

According to Mr McCord's case a no-deal Brexit will lead to chaos, economic misery and seriously threaten the peace process.

He is also attempting to intervene when the Supreme Court sits in London today to determine the legality of Mr Johnson's decision to suspend parliament.

But dealing with legal points specific to Northern Ireland, the three appeal judges in Belfast heard north-south ministerial bodies set up under the 1998 Good Friday accord were predicted on EU membership.

"At the moment there's no fallback position in place, if there isn't a deal, to safeguard Northern Ireland's position," Mr Lavery said.

"EU withdrawal without an agreement in terms that would be clearly damaging to relations north and south, east and west, would not be compatible with the terms of the Northern Ireland Act.

"What was always contemplated was, after notification (to leave) took place, there would be debate, negotiation and some kind of structure whereby Northern Ireland's constitutional settlement could be safeguarded."

The barrister questioned the legality of decisions made by Mr Johnson since his statement on July 25 setting out plans for his premiership.

He told the court that an executive decision has been made that the UK will leave - with or without an agreement - at the end of October.

Despite a new law being passed to stop any no-deal Brexit, counsel maintained: "We have a clear indication that every tool at the Prime Minister's disposal will be used to bypass that."

Mr Lavery claimed the government is under an obligation if an extension cannot be agreed.

"The default position isn't exit," he said.

"The default position is we stay within the EU until such time as an agreement can be reached whereby any exit can be orderly, coherent and consistent with the particular needs of Northern Ireland."

Counsel for one of the other applicants, who has been granted anonymity, disputed the findings reached in the original High Court case.

Barry Macdonald QC said: "We are not inviting the court to trespass on political activities, merely to uphold the law."

The government is under an obligation not to diminish north-south relations, he argued.

Mr Macdonald added: "One thing they can't do is create a hard border."

The appeal continues.

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