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Government can use royal powers for Brexit, court told

By Alan Erwin

Published 06/10/2016

Legal right: Raymond McCord
Legal right: Raymond McCord

The UK Government is legally entitled to use royal prerogative powers to carry out the people's will to quit the European Union, the High Court has heard.

A judge was told the power is "common currency" in making and withdrawing from international treaties - and was the method used to join the EU.

Rejecting claims that Parliament is being sidestepped in the process, counsel for the Government insisted the legislative body will be involved in any law changes resulting from Brexit.

Tony McGleenan QC said: "There is no legal impediment to a government giving effect to the will of the people as expressed in the referendum by using a prerogative power."

The barrister was responding in landmark legal bids to stop the UK from leaving the EU.

Separate cases have been brought by a victims' campaigner and a cross-party group of MLAs.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced she will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal process for confirming the UK's departure, by the end of March 2017.

But proceedings under way in Belfast claim the move is unlawful without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.

Even though the June 23 referendum backed Brexit, 56% of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to remain.

Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond McCord Jr was murdered by the UVF in north Belfast in 1997, believes they have a legal right to resist being forced out.

His lawyers argue that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has given the Northern Irish public sole sovereignty on the issue.

They also claimed Brexit would have a "catastrophic effect" on the peace process, causing constitutional upheaval amid renewed calls for a united Ireland.

Politicians including Alliance MLA David Ford, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein Assemblyman John O'Dowd and Steven Agnew of the Green Party are also seeking to judicially review the British Government's move towards quitting the EU.

The MLAs, whose case is backed by representatives of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, claim an Act of Parliament is required before Brexit can take place.

They also contend that the Assembly should be consulted and asked for its consent.

However, Mr McGleenan insisted the case was about an administrative step in leaving an international treaty.

"It's not illegitimate, unorthodox or undemocratic to use prerogative power in that context," he told the court.

Dismissing claims that the method was in decline, the barrister continued: "This is the common currency the Executive uses to deal with these matters (international treaties)."

He also attempted to rubbish arguments that a withdrawal would damage the Good Friday Agreement. "The Government remains committed to the peace process," he stressed.

"There's nothing in the exercise of the royal prerogative power which will cut across or undermine the Northern Ireland Act, the peace process or any other collateral agreements."

Attorney General John Larkin QC also featured in the case, examining issues of devolution.

Setting out a post-Brexit future, the Attorney General argued: "Not one word or phrase in the Belfast Agreement or the British-Irish Agreement has been affected."

Exercising the royal prerogative may have political, economic and social consequences, but it won't change the law, he said.

Mr Larkin also contended that the Belfast Agreement can continue to work if one of its "players" exits the EU.

The case continues today.

Belfast Telegraph

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