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Brexit: DUP, Sinn Fein Split widens as court ruling risks creating havoc with UK plans for European Union exit

Landmark decision to hand MPs vote on triggering Brexit sees divisions between DUP and Sinn Fein increase further as speculation over snap general election heightens

By Noel McAdam

Published 04/11/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont yesterday
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont yesterday

Brexit divisions between the DUP and Sinn Fein have sharpened after the High Court in London ruled Parliament must have a vote before the UK can start the process of leaving the European Union.

Yesterday's landmark ruling threatened to throw the Government's timetable for the start of formal negotiations into disarray and heightened speculation of a snap general election - for which the DUP says it is already preparing for.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also warned the ruling could boost the campaign for a second referendum.

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said decisions on Northern Ireland's future in the EU should be left to Stormont and the Irish Government.

He also ruled out any Sinn Fein move to end its boycott of the House of Commons, even if its four MPs could make the difference in a crunch vote. The Government has already said it will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, with a hearing earmarked for early next month.

Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to make a statement to MPs on the issue on Monday.

More:

Decision was a democratic one and must be respected

All democrats will welcome verdict as a sensible one  

Officials are already warning that failure to overturn the decision could mean months of delay before Article 50 is triggered to begin up to two years of negotiations on the terms of the UK's new relationship with Europe.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the verdict will be a great comfort to the "arrogant anti-democratic Remainers", which they will use "to the full".

"The losers in the referendum have been seeking for a weapon to carry out a prolonged guerrilla war," he said.

"They want prolonged debates on the Government negotiating position, a running commentary on the negotiations, and have demanded commitments to maintain the free movement of people and the single market - the most damaging aspects of our membership."

But Mr McGuinness said: "Brexit will have a massive impact on every one of Ireland's 32 counties. So we believe that any decisions that need to be taken about the future of this island should be taken between the Assembly and the Dail."

As Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited Stormont for discussions on the EU withdrawal crisis, Assembly Opposition parties also faced in different directions.

More: Next stop the Supreme Court as speculation mounts Prime Minister could go to the country early

The Ulster Unionist Pary said if the appeal was unsuccessful its two MPs - Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan - will still vote for the Article 50 mechanism to go ahead, while the SDLP said its three MPs - Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell and Margaret Ritchie - will vote to support the majority in NI (56%) who wanted to stay in the EU.

Mr Durkan said: "The idea seemed to be that Parliament had no role whatsoever and could entrust these matters entirely to the Royal Prerogative and those who are meant to be leading the process.

"That would constitute a request for us to commit a dereliction of duty."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said if the Supreme Court upheld the verdict the issue of legislative consent motions from the devolved adminstrations in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff would arise - and urged the Executive to urgently seek legal advice.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the will of the UK electorate had been ignored.

"Whatever of the court's motivation, it is clear those who took this case saw it as a vehicle to thwart the will of the people so clearly expressed in the referendum," he said.

"In that they must not succeed."

The verdict in London came less than a month after the High Court in Belfast dismissed the UK's first Brexit legal challenge.

Where do we go from here? The events so far. . .

February 20: Date of referendum announced by Prime Minister David Cameron after he had secured a deal on Britain's membership of the EU.

April 15: Referendum campaign kicks off with campaign events and rallies across the country. 'Vote Leave' was named as the official 'leave' EU campaign. 'Britain Stronger in Europe' was the 'remain' side.

June 23: Polling day for the EU referendum. Voters, facing their biggest decision in a generation, went to the polls. A shock victory for the leave campaigners looked increasingly likely as votes were counted through the night at hundreds of venues.

June 24: The national declaration of the referendum result, followed by the resignation of Mr Cameron as Prime Minister. The value of the pound dropped sharply as happy Brexit campaigners celebrated.

October 3: Sterling falls to three-year low against the euro after new Prime Minister Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

November 3: High Court rules that Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU and that the government cannot trigger Article 50.

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