Judicial Review of Irish Backstop

by Belfast Agreement Defence Group

Judicial Review of Irish Backstop

by Belfast Agreement Defence Group
Belfast Agreement Defence Group
Case Owner
We are a group of concerned individuals from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The lead claimant is David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland and Nobel Prize winner.
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Belfast Agreement Defence Group
Case Owner
We are a group of concerned individuals from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The lead claimant is David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland and Nobel Prize winner.
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Latest: March 13, 2019

Making an Impact

Saturday’s Daily Telegraph (9 May 2019), reporting on Geoffrey Cox’s negotiations earlier in the week, mentioned that Cox had ‘referenced the recent legal challenge by Lord Trimbl...

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A BREXIT BACKSTOP JUDICIAL REVIEW 

Who we are

Lord Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the negotiations that led to the Belfast 'Good Friday' Agreement.  He has come together with fellow concerned individuals Jeffrey Dudgeon and Ruth Dudley Edwards who wish to see the UK leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement that delivers certainty and stability, and also respects the Good Friday Agreement.

The case

We are seeking a judicial review of the backstop in the withdrawal agreement that the prime minister agreed in November but was rejected by Parliament in January, to make the government use the proper channels under the Good Friday Agreement to reach solutions with Ireland and the EU.

The case is the only show in town that is seeking a pathway to Brexit and a Withdrawal Agreement.  

It provides a route to a negotiated exit, meeting the democratic mandate of the vote to leave the EU and the commitments of the UK government it addresses the concerns of businesses and communities on both side of the Irish border. It would also respect and make use of the Belfast agreement in the way that it was intended, to support the totality of the relationships within the United Kingdom and Ireland.

We need £20,000 for the legal fees for the first stage of the challenge.  Please support us by donating, and sharing with friends whatever their political persuasion as we seek a constructive, bipartisan solution.  All funds will go to the legal team working on the case.

Background

The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. As it stands at present, unless the EU agrees to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement reached by the prime minister in November to amend the Irish backstop protocol, Parliament seems unlikely to ratify it, raising the real possibility that there will be no deal.

On 29 January Parliament passed the so-called 'Brady Amendment' which accepted the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement subject to replacing the backstop with alternative arrangements.

We have put together a legal challenge to the government, for the administrative court in London that would compel it to respect the Belfast 'Good Friday' Agreement in achieving such alternative arrangements.  We need to move quickly in the window created by the passing of the Brady amendment for progress to be made before 29 March.  It is supported by Lord Trimble, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The case is based upon six propositions:

  • one, the political consensus on ‘no hard border’ within Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom;
  • two, the Belfast agreement could, and should, be used to achieve this, through the British-Irish intergovernmental conference, an east-west institution (bilateralism);
  • three, the attorney general has confirmed that, under the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland will be treated differently from Great Britain, remaining in the customs union and the single market for goods and horizontal measures – this to ‘endure indefinitely’;
  • four, the Republic of Ireland, as a voting member state of the EU, would be exercising governmental functions in Northern Ireland, contrary to the consent principle of the Belfast agreement;
  • five, the UK/EU negotiations of 2017-18 have reached an impasse, though the Republic of Ireland permitted the EU to use the Good Friday agreement, incorrectly, to justify the backstop);
  • six, the 432 votes against ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement by the UK Parliament on 15 January 2019, have now become the 317 votes to 301, endorsing the Withdrawal Agreement subject to ‘alternative arrangements’ to replace the backstop.

Alternative arrangements have been put forward in various proposals describing technical and legal solutions. The case is intended to persuade the UK government – either by concession or order – to seek to begin immediately a work programme with the Irish government on no hard border.

The work programme and the removal of the backstop in its current form might preserve the other elements of the agreement by 29 March. Work could then continue through the implementation period to 31 December 2020.

The UK would be out of the EU. The financial settlement would be preserved. The rights of citizens would be safeguarded. The future relations negotiations could begin. An agreed Irish border is practicable, in the right political circumstances.


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Update 3

Belfast Agreement Defence Group

March 13, 2019

Making an Impact

Saturday’s Daily Telegraph (9 May 2019), reporting on Geoffrey Cox’s negotiations earlier in the week, mentioned that Cox had ‘referenced the recent legal challenge by Lord Trimble’ in his talks in Brussels. 

ConHome ran a story on Monday 11 March 2019 on Cox’s negotiations, pointing out that ‘Cox, the expert lawyer charged by the Prime Minister with finding a solution to the backstop, has ended up taking a very different view of its [the backstop’s] compatibility with the Belfast Agreement to the official line laid down by Downing Street.

‘By taking a different tack, which is to say acting like a lawyer, Cox is finally offering the sort of sceptical, expert scrutiny of the backstop that London ought to have been offering from the start. This is to be welcomed, because a detailed push-back against Dublin’s ‘maximalist’ interpretation of the UK’s obligations is the Attorney General’s best bet of securing the sort of changes Brexiteer MPs need to back the Withdrawal Agreement.’

https://www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2019/03/cox-is-out-of-line-with-downing-street-on-the-backstop.html

These articles show that the arguments we advanced in the legal challenge and have since taken to the negotiators have been taken on board on the UK side and are being used in the negotiations, but that there is much more work still to be done if they are to make the impact they deserve.

Last week, BBC NI picked up our last page update: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-47491914




Update 2

Belfast Agreement Defence Group

March 6, 2019

Government reply to our Letter Before Claim and our response

The government replied to our letter before claim on Friday 19 February 2019. They set out two reasons why they maintain our claim is not justiciable at present. Firstly, because treaty-making powers are non-justiciable until they are legislated into domestic law and that therefore no action can be taken at this stage. Secondly, because there is no decision that can be reviewed as yet as no final decision has been taken. They make no defence upon the grounds of our claim.

In response we have undertaken two courses of action. First, we have commissioned QCs’ opinions on the defence that they have presented. The last of these arrived on Thursday 28 February 2019. There is broad agreement from counsel that the case cannot be heard in a court of law at this stage. We have asked for opinions as to when that situation might change and are awaiting responses to that question from counsel.

As they made no response to the substantive legal basis of the potential judicial review, we have commissioned a set of additional opinions to test and develop the grounds for our claim as part of our case preparation.

Because we cannot utilise legal argument in court at present, we are using these legal opinions to inform and equip the UK government in its new policy, following the Brady amendment, of negotiations negotiating with the EU to seek alterations to the Backstop.

We are also using these opinions to inform parliamentary opinion in the run up to MPs voting again on the Withdrawal Agreement and on whether to request an extension to the Article 50 negotiation or leave with no deal.

The legal question is now at the heart of the negotiations and we are well equipped as a result of our case preparation and with these new opinions to make an effective contribution to the negotiations and the opinion of parliament. 

We are alert to the potential for a judicial review in the future if the final agreement reached between the UK and the EU fails to uphold the Belfast Agreement.



Update 1

Belfast Agreement Defence Group

Feb. 13, 2019

Letter Before Claim Issued

On 8 February, our letter before claim was sent to the Government's lawyers.  it outlined the factual and legal points that the claim is based on, and requested a response from Government by 22 February.  The legal remedies being sought include the initiation of a British-Irish intergovernmental conference to discuss alternative arrangements to those set out in the current backstop.  The letter also stressed the claimants' hope that the British and Irish governments can work together to avoid a hard border, whatever the outcome of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations.

Huge thanks to all of our backers for your support, we could not do this without you. The case is already bringing serious consideration of these issues to the fore, but the legal proceedings have a long way to go in a very short space of time, so please keep sharing this page and let people know how they can support the case.  

It has been reported here in the Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/lord-trimble-formally-begins-legal-challenge-to-backstop-1.3791713

And you can read claimant Ruth Dudley Edwards giving her views in the Belfast Telegraph here https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/ruth-dudley-edwards-lord-trimbles-challenge-will-hopefully-throw-a-legal-spanner-in-the-works-of-backstop-plan-37801149.html

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