Judge Bernard McCloskey in Belfast Thursday said the debate over the peace accord is a purely political matter in a ruling that was immediately taken up by an appellate court.
The opinion is a boost for Johnson after a court a few hundred miles away in Edinburgh on Wednesday ruled that the prime minister’s plan to suspend Parliament in the run up to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline was an unlawful abuse of power. A few days earlier, a court in London ruled, like McCloskey, that the issue was not for the courts.
“I consider the characterization of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute,” McCloskey said.
Raymond McCord, whose son was killed in the political violence that dogged Northern Ireland for decades, had brought the Belfast case, arguing that leaving the EU without a deal would breach the peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement. EU membership facilitated an open border on the island of Ireland and a no-deal exit could put that at risk.
There was confusion immediately after the Belfast ruling about whether McCord’s case would be heard along with the Scottish and English cases related to the suspension of Parliament at the U.K. Supreme Court next week.
A claim related to the so-called prorogation of Parliament had been sidelined to focus on the peace accord issue. McCord’s team will try to resurrect the issue at a hearing this afternoon to ensure they can bring a case to the Supreme Court.
“We say Northern Ireland should be represented in the Supreme Court in relation to prorogation, because it ties in with the Good Friday Agreement,” Ciaran O’Hare, McCord’s lawyer, said after the brief Court of Appeal hearing that followed the ruling. “The people of Northern Ireland will be worst affected by a no-deal Brexit and so we say that these matters should be progressed expeditiously.”
Nine judges from the U.K.’s top court will meet Sept. 17 to review the Parliament cases in what could be the most closely watched court proceedings in the country’s history.
While Johnson had suffered several political defeats in Parliament, he had fared better in court until Wednesday’s stinging setback in Scotland. The threat of prorogation galvanized Labour politicians and a group of Conservative rebels into passing a bill requiring the prime minister to push back the date when the U.K. leaves the European Union if he can’t get a deal in Brussels.
McCloskey said the case is set to be heard by the Belfast court of appeal Friday before moving to the U.K. Supreme Court next week.
The ruling adds to a mixture of competing verdicts from England and Scotland that have been delivered over the past 10 days. An Edinburgh court ruled that the suspension of Parliament -- already under effect -- stymied lawmakers, while London judges said that the matter didn’t fall under their oversight.