Legal challenge to EU exit fails, but campaign is set to continue
A High Court judge in Belfast has dismissed landmark legal bids to halt the United Kingdom's planned departure from the European Union.
The father of a loyalist paramilitary murder victim and a cross-party group of MLAs mounted separate cases aimed at having the Brexit process declared unlawful.
But Mr Justice Maguire rejected claims by lawyers for Raymond McCord and the Stormont politicians that the British Government cannot use royal prerogative powers to begin EU withdrawal without an Act of Parliament.
Throwing out all grounds of challenge, he said: "The court is not persuaded, for the purpose with which this judicial review is concerned, prerogative power has been chased from the field."
With similar litigation taking place in London, the judge was only ruling on issues specific to Northern Ireland at this stage.
Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal process for confirming the UK is to leave, by the end of March 2017.
During a three-day hearing at the High Court in Belfast it was contended that the move is illegal without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.
In a 45-page judgment issued yesterday, however, Mr Justice Maguire identified no limits to the use of prerogative power for announcing intentions to quit the EU.
He held that notification in itself does not alter the law of the UK, but only the beginning of a process which will ultimately probably lead to changes.
"On the day after the notice has been given, the law will in fact be the same as it was on the day before it was given," the judge said.
"The rights of individual citizens will not have been changed - though it is, of course, true that in due course the body of EU law as it applies in the UK will, very likely, become the subject of change.
"But at the point when this occurs the process necessarily will be one controlled by parliamentary legislation, as this is the mechanism for changing law in the UK."
Even though the June 23 referendum backed Brexit, a 56% majority of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to remain.
Mr McCord, a victims campaigner whose son Raymond Jr was beaten to death by the UVF in 1997, claimed they have a legal right to resist being forced out.
His lawyers argued that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has given the Northern Irish public sole sovereignty to decide on their future.
They also predicted Brexit would have a "catastrophic effect" on the peace process.
Outside court Mr McCord vowed to take his challenge to the Supreme Court.
With his lawyers due to seek formal permission to appeal at a further hearing next month, he said: "This is not the end of the matter.
"The judge left the door open when he said it could go to a higher court, and more than likely that is going to be the Supreme Court in London."