Good Friday Agreement cannot force UK to stay in EU, says attorney general
John Larkin QC told a Brexit legal challenge in Belfast that the EU is only referenced once in the British-Irish Agreement.
Peace process agreements in Northern Ireland are not dependent on the UK remaining in the EU, the region’s attorney general has said.
John Larkin QC said the EU was referenced only once in the British-Irish Agreement – the treaty that gave effect to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – and that was only a brief mention in the preamble.
Mr Larkin was making a submission at Belfast High Court during an ongoing legal challenge against a potential no-deal Brexit.
He said one paragraph of the treaty preamble referred to the UK and Ireland wishing to improve relations between their countries as “friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”.
“That can’t be boosted or given a steroid injection as to make it an obligation of continuing membership of the EU on one or both parties,” he said.
Mr Larkin also argued domestic UK law could not prevent a no-deal because provision for exiting the EU without an agreement was enshrined in Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty, which took primacy.
Three applicants, including victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord, are challenging the Government’s handling of the Brexit process, arguing exiting the EU without a deal would breach the 1998 accord and negatively impact the peace process.
In court on Monday, Mr McCord’s lawyer Ronan Lavery QC told the court he had written to Government lawyers asking for an undertaking that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will comply with the vote of Parliament to delay Brexit if no agreement is reached.
Barry McDonald QC, representing another of the applicants, urged judge Lord Justice Bernard McCloskey, if he found in their favour, to compel the Government to abide by the law.
Referring to speculation Mr Johnson could send two letters to the EU, one asking for an extension and the other stating he did not want an extension, Mr McDonald suggested there was an attempt to “sabotage” the will of Parliament.
“There’s an indication of an intent to subvert the purpose of the Act,” he said.
Dr Tony McGleenan QC, representing the Government, began outlining his case before proceedings rose for lunch on what is the second day of the case.