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Belfast Agreement 'unaffected by EU vote', Brexit challengers told

Published 05/10/2016

Campaigners outside Belfast's High Court, where a legal challenge to Brexit is taking place
Campaigners outside Belfast's High Court, where a legal challenge to Brexit is taking place

Not a word of the Belfast Agreement which ended violence in Northern Ireland has been affected by Brexit, Stormont's top legal adviser said.

A cross-community group of politicians and victims campaigners at the High Court in Belfast is challenging the Prime Minister's right to launch EU withdrawal negotiations by next March following concerns for the peace process.

A lawyer for Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has claimed no court can prevent ministers from implementing the will of the people following the June 23 referendum and said there would be no impact on peace.

Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin QC said: "Not one full stop, not one comma of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has been affected.

He added: "Not one word or phrase in the Belfast Agreement or the British-Irish Agreement, at least, in its operative parts, has been affected."

He said there was nothing in the Belfast Agreement, signed in 1998 to end decades of violence, which could possibly be considered a deal to stay in the EU.

"There are no substantive obligations in the Belfast Agreement which required continued membership of the EU."

Lawyers challenging Brexit have said EU directives represent a "pillar" of law in Northern Ireland.

Ronan Lavery QC, who represents a loyalist victims' campaigner concerned about the impact of Brexit on the peace process, said if the Government ignored the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland enshrined in the Belfast Agreement then they could just as easily deny their wishes and scrap the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mrs May plans to trigger negotiations with the European Union next year following June's out vote.

The ministerial power is the "common currency" of withdrawal from international treaties like the one governing Britain's membership of the EU, a barrister for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said.

Tony McGleenan QC added: "There is no legal impediment to Government giving effect to the will of the people."

He noted the UK joined the EU using royal prerogative, ministerial power.

"It can withdraw using the same power."

The Government plans to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA).

The Act gives direct effect to all EU law and the introduction of a new Bill to repeal it will mean the Act ceases to apply from the day of exit.

The barrister added: "It is not illegitimate, unorthodox or undemocratic to use a prerogative power in that context."

Some 56% of Northern Irish voters backed Remain but some unionist-dominated areas supported Leave. The largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionists, campaigned for an exit.

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