00:21 GMT +315 November 2019
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    Queen Victoria and the Union Flag outside Belfast Town Hall

    Northern Ireland High Court Rejects Brexit Referendum Challenges

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    The High Court of Northern Ireland has rejected a joint a challenge to the Brexit process by four political parties and a victim support campaigner, who were arguing that - as Northern Ireland voted 56 percent to remain in the EU - it would be illegal to begin Brexit without a parliamentary vote.

    A cross-party group of politicians — from Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party — brought the challenge in early October, arguing that a vote in the Northern Ireland regional assembly should also be required. Their claim is based on a key element of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and Ireland.

    ​Their lawyers argued it would be unlawful to begin the formal process of the UK leaving the EU without a parliamentary vote, under the terms of the agreement which requires Westminster to maintain the statutory recognition of the agreement, which has a number of reference to the EU. 

    ​Another claim was brought by Raymond McCord, a victim support campaigner, whose son Raymond McCord, Jr., was killed by the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1997. 

    His claim was based on the premise that it would be unlawful to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the formal process of beginning negotiations over Brexit with the EU — without the UK Parliament first voting on the move.

    His legal team also contended the move will undermine the UK's domestic and international treaty obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, and inflict damage on the Northern Ireland peace process.

    One of the murals near Shankill Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
    © Flickr / J McDowell
    One of the murals near Shankill Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    Prerogative Powers

    Lawyers for the British government argued that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has so-called "prerogative powers" to invoke Article 50, without having to go to parliament — a claim she has vehemently defended.

    The Northern Ireland ruling — there was nothing in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which meant the government could not trigger Article 50 — is not the end of the road, however, as it will inevitably be appealed and go to the Supreme Court in London.

    Another similar legal challenge has been brought by businesswoman Gina Miller and British citizen Deir Dos Santos (among others) at the High Court in London. They claim that the outcome of the referendum itself is not legally binding and for the prime minister to invoke Article 50 without the approval of Parliament is unlawful.

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    peace agreement, Brexit, EU membership, referendum, sovereignty, IRA, Ulster Volunteer Force, Theresa May, Europe, Northern Ireland
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