SCOTLAND’S highest civil court on Friday dismissed a legal bid to stop the UK government from seeking to pass its proposed EU withdrawal agreement at today’s special session of the House of Commons.
Anti-Brexit campaigners sought a ruling that the agreement with the EU contravenes legislation preventing Northern Ireland from forming part of a separate customs territory.
Campaigner Jo Maugham QC lodged the petition at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Thursday.
Maugham sought an interdict effectively suspending the deal.
He also sought a court order preventing MPs voting for the deal unless the full, final text is put before them.
Maugham lodged the petition just hours after the announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the two sides had come to an agreement on a deal for Brexit, ahead of a crucial EU summit in Brussels.
Explaining his legal objections to the agreement, Maugham said it contravenes legislation stating it is ‘unlawful for Her Majesty’s Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain’.
Under the current law, Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 prevents Northern Ireland from having different customs rules from the rest of the UK.
Maugham also argued the government will prevent Parliament from having any say on future trade negotiations, ‘including those affecting the NHS’.
He added: ‘That should cause deep alarm to all of us.’
The QC for the government responded that ‘this is a manifest attempt to interfere with the proceedings in Parliament.’
He was backed up by a letter presented to the Partisan Court by the Council for the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.
He said that the court ‘should not make any order. There should be proper separation of powers between court and Parliament. There should not be any order which prohibits the bringing of any matter before Parliament.’
Lord Pentland asked the QC if his request for a court order would stop debate in Parliament on Saturday, and said he was concerned that suspending the withdrawal agreement would mean the courts becoming heavily involved in Parliament’s business.
Aidan O’Neill QC, representing Maugham, said the order would not stop the debate, and insisted they were purely calling for the agreement to be declared void on grounds of being unlawful.