Belfast Telegraph

No-deal Brexit would 'light dynamite fuse' under Good Friday Agreement, court told

The applicants argue that a no-deal Brexit would damage cross border relations between the UK and Ireland (David Young/PA)
The applicants argue that a no-deal Brexit would damage cross border relations between the UK and Ireland (David Young/PA)

By Alan Erwin

A no-deal Brexit would "light a fuse to a stick of dynamite under the Good Friday Agreement", the Court of Appeal heard today.

Counsel in one of three legal actions being dealt with in Belfast claimed leaving the EU without an agreement would unlawfully create a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The claims were made amid attempts to overturn a verdict dismissing the trio of challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit strategy.

A judge ruled last week the cases involved political matters on which the courts should not intervene.

One of those who sought judicial review has been granted anonymity, being referred to only as JR83.

Lawyers for the British Government insist that Brexit laws impose no obligation on the UK to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU.

Instead, they contend, the departure process became inexorable once notification was given.

In the previous High Court case the triggering of Article 50 was again compared to a bullet being fired from a gun.

But Barry Macdonald QC, for JR83, countered with another analogy.

He told the three appeal judges: "This is lighting a fuse to a stick of dynamite under the Good Friday Agreement.

"We are trying to extinguish the fuse at this stage My Lords."

Disputing the earlier ruling, he continued: "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, Mr Macdonald argued.

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

One of the other cases is being taken by victims campaigner Raymond McCord.

The Belfast man is also set to intervene when the Supreme Court sits in London this week to determine the legality of Mr Johnson's decision to suspend parliament.

But dealing with the legal points specific to Northern Ireland, his lawyers claimed a no-deal Brexit would unlawfully undermine the region's constitutional position and inflict clear damage on north-south relations.

His barrister also said the Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears intent on using "every tool at his disposal" to avoid seeking an extension to the October 31 deadline for leaving the EU.

Mr McCord, whose son Raymond Jr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, contends that a no-deal Brexit will lead to chaos, economic misery and seriously threaten the peace process.

The court was told north-south ministerial bodies set up under the 1998 Good Friday accord were predicated on EU membership.

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

"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.

An executive decision has been made that the UK will leave - with or without an agreement - at the end of October, judges were told.

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." ends

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