UK: Court dismisses Northern Irish ‘no-deal’ Brexit challenge

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Claims that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit would risk peace in Northern Ireland are political, not judicial, the court ruled.

A case arguing that a British withdrawal from the European Union without an exit agreement would contravene Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord has been dismissed on all grounds by the Belfast High Court.

Judges ruled on Thursday that the matter was essentially a political argument rather than a legal one.

“I consider the characterisation of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute,” said Lord Justice Bernard McCloskey.

“Virtually all of the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supranational.”

The case is one of a series across the United Kingdom challenging Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy. Johnson has said Britain must leave the EU on October 31, whether or not it secures a deal on an orderly exit.

Economists and other experts say leaving the EU without a divorce deal would be disastrous for the UK economy, and the government’s own contingency planning suggests a possible shortage of certain foodstuffs and fuel, with the poorest in society being hit hardest.

Trucks may have to wait up to two-and-a-half days to cross the English Channel, and British citizens could be subjected to increased immigration checks at EU border posts, read the “Operation Yellowhammer” report, which the government was forced to release after a House of Commons vote this week.

“Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease,” it said. “There is a risk that panic-buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption.”

Disruption to supplies of medicine and disputes in fishing areas with non-British vessels still active in British waters is possible, while “there may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions”, said the assessment.

Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, was one of the legal applicants who brought the case in Belfast. He was in court on Thursday for the hearing and conveyed his disappointment to the judge.

The rights campaigner will appeal the dismissal of his case, his lawyer said.

“We are seeking to appeal, we will be back before our court of appeal today and we do hope to be before the [United Kingdom] Supreme Court next week,” said lawyer Ciaran O’Hare.

“These are groundbreaking legal cases and the plan is for all of these cases to meet in the Supreme Court,” O’Hare added.

Scotland’s highest court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks was unlawful and should be annulled, a verdict that will be appealed at the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday. But a bid through the English court system was rejected earlier in the week.

“The Northern Irish court has followed the English High Court’s approach on this, rather than the Scottish Court of Session,” tweeted constitutional law expert David Allen Green.

“So the UK Supreme Court will have to sort this out for [the] UK as whole, as it uniquely has jurisdiction in the law of the all constituent nations of the UK.”

Johnson has meanwhile denied lying to Queen Elizabeth II over the reasons for suspending parliament in the face of the Brexit deadline. The stated motivation for the shutdown was to be able to introduce a new domestic legislative agenda with a new parliamentary session.

Parliament was prorogued – suspended – on Monday night until October 14, a move opponents argued was designed to thwart their attempts to scrutinise his plans for leaving the EU and to allow him to run down the clock towards a “no-deal” Brexit.

The Scottish court agreed the suspension was intended to stymie MPS, prompting Johnson’s opponents to accuse him of lying to the queen as to the reasons for the suspension.

Johnson said on Thursday those claims were “absolutely not” true.

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