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Legal challenge in Belfast against no-deal Brexit dismissed

Updated 7:26 AM ET, Thu September 12, 2019

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was dealt a rare piece of good news on Thursday when a judge in Belfast dismissed a legal challenge to a no-deal Brexit, rejecting a claim that it undermined the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Justice Bernard McCloskey made the ruling on a trio of cases, which contended that Johnson's hardline no-deal Brexit strategy would damage the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland. That deal, signed in 1998, helped end decades of bloody sectarian violence in which more than 3,000 people died.

The government rejected that argument during two days of legal proceedings in Belfast High Court, PA reported.

"I consider the characterisation of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute," McCloskey said in his written ruling, PA news agency reported.

"Within the world of politics the well-recognised phenomena of claim and counterclaim, assertion and counter-assertion, allegation and denial, blow and counter-blow, alteration and modification of government policy, public statements, unpublished deliberations, posturing, strategy and tactics are the very essence of what is both countenanced and permitted in a democratic society," he added.

The judge excluded a separate case against the prorogation of Parliament.

One of the applicants was victims' campaigner Raymond McCord, who brought the case challenging a no-deal Brexit. His son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997.

McCord's lawyers said the judgment will be appealed and they will do "everything in our power" to get the case to the Supreme Court next week.

They said Northern Ireland needed to be represented because it could become "an economic wasteland" as a result of a hard break with the European Union.

Landmark ruling

This follows a shock ruling Wednesday, when three senior judges in Scotland unanimously declared that Johnson's advice to the Queen to suspend, or prorogue, Parliament for five weeks was "unlawful."

Thursday's ruling paves the way for a showdown in the UK Supreme Court next week -- where it is due to hear appeals on the Scottish case as well as the English challenge filed by prominent anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller.

But the Northern Ireland case will not automatically leapfrog other cases to the Supreme Court.

It would first have to be heard by the Court of Appeals in Belfast, where judges have indicated a willingness to fast-track the hearing of any appeal over the weekend, PA reported.

The ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for Johnson, who has faced a string of setbacks since he announced his intention to prorogue Parliament for five weeks in order to bring forward a new legislative program. Critics said the PM is shutting down Parliament to stifle debate, and to allow the clock to run down to the UK's scheduled departure from the European Union on October 31.

The move backfired and emboldened lawmakers to defy him in Parliament. It set in motion a series of defeats for Johnson, who has lost his working majority in Parliament and failed to secure a new election. He also ousted rebellious Conservative lawmakers, including former Cabinet ministers and Winston Churchill's grandson.

On Wednesday, Johnson's government also released its "Operation Yellowhammer" Brexit planning document, under duress.

The disclosure of the document -- which warns of medicine shortages, severe delays at Channel ports and an increase in food prices if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal -- was forced on the government by lawmakers, who voted on Monday to approve its release.

The Operation Yellowhammer document reports that disruption at English Channel crossings could last up to three months before it eases, with up to 85% of heavy goods vehicles unprepared for new French customs checks that will be introduced on day one after a no-deal Brexit.

Unmitigated, that would have an impact on the supply of medicines to the UK, the document also warns.

"The reliance of medicines and medical products' supply chains on the shore straits crossing make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays; three-quarters of medicines come via the short straits," the report says.

But the government refused to release internal communications between aides about Johnson's prorogation of Parliament, which was also mandated in the bill passed in the House of Commons.


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