A Belfast judge has ruled that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement can not prevent a change in the North’s constitutional position if a process is initiated to pull the Six Counties out of the European Union.
The judge, Paul Maguire, declared that the British Prime Minister’s royal prerogative power was not one in which the court could intervene.
The Good Friday Agreement, an international treaty between the Dublin and London governments, sets out that a majority vote within the Six Counties is required to change the North’s constitutional position -- the so-called ‘Principle of Consent’. However, the judge said that the public view that this takes precedence over the actions of the London government is incorrect.
“Any suggestion that a legitimate expectation can overwhelm the structure of the legislative scheme (for Brexit) is not viable,” he said.
The ruling may have implications for Scotland, whose government argues it should have a say on Brexit because it too voted to remain in the EU.
A barrister representing Britain’s governor in Ireland, James Brokenshire, successfully argued that the British PM is legally entitled to use the royal prerogative to “carry out the [UK] people’s will”.
He described the power as “common currency” in making and withdrawing from international treaties, and insisted that the British government would remain committed to the peace process.
In his verdict, Justice Maguire concluded that it remains to be seen what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will be. He also dismissed concerns that the British government had failed to comply with equality legislation. However, he left open the possibility of an appeal.
With his lawyers due to seek formal permission to appeal at a further hearing next month, victims campaigner Raymond McCord, who brought the case, said the democratic will of 56 per cent of the Six Counties who voted to remain is being ignored.
“This judgment doesn’t mean it’s over by any means. We are entitled to take this to London and we intend to,” he said.