Northern Ireland activist launches legal challenge against Brexit

August 12, 2016 8:42 AM EDT

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BELFAST (Reuters) - A Northern Ireland human rights activist has launched a legal challenge against any British attempt to leave the European Union, saying it would be in breach of the 1998 peace deal that brought peace to the British province.

Raymond McCord's move is one of several attempts being made to use the courts to stave off a British exit from the EU.

Northern Ireland voted on June 23 to stay in the EU, with 56 percent voting 'Remain', putting it at odds with the United Kingdom's overall 52-48 percent result in favor of leaving.

Senior Northern Ireland politicians have warned that a British exit could undermine the province's 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal by reinstating a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and by undermining the legal basis for the deal, which contains references to the EU.

Lawyers representing McCord, whose son was shot dead by pro-British militants in Belfast in 1997, said they had lodged papers in the High Court in Belfast on Thursday and were hoping for an initial hearing next week.

McCord is arguing that the British government would be in breach of its domestic and international treaty obligations under the Good Friday Agreement if it leaves the EU and that it would be illegal to leave without a parliamentary vote in the British House of Commons.

The 1998 agreement ended three decades of tit-for-tat killings between Catholic Irish nationalists, who want the province to unite with Ireland and Protestant unionists, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom, that left 3,600 dead.

McCord also expressed concerns that funding from the European Union paid to victims of that era would likely be stopped following Britain's exit.

"As a victim of the most recent conflict in Northern Ireland, Mr McCord is very concerned about the profoundly damaging effect a unilateral withdrawal of the UK from the EU will have upon the ongoing relative stability in Northern Ireland," lawyer Ciaran O'Hare said.

He said McCord was concerned his fundamental rights could be affected by Brexit.

The province's First Minister Arlene Foster and her Democratic Unionist Party are in favor of Britain's leaving, while the Sinn Fein party of Irish nationalist Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is against.

Other judicial challenges being brought by groups and individuals against Brexit also say the government has no legal power to trigger a formal divorce from the European Union by invoking Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, without parliament's approval.

Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin, who leads the government's Brexit unit to prepare for negotiations, has said its legal advice was that Article 50 can be invoked under the royal prerogative, which does not require parliamentary approval.

(Reporting by Ian Graham; Editing by Conor Humphries and Stephen Addison)



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