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Brexit: Our interests cannot be silenced, our voice must be heard

Wednesday 31-08-2016 - 17:25

The outcome of the Brexit referendum was clear. The question asked us whether we wanted to remain or leave. Despite the majority of people voting to remain in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, the overall result was that the UK should leave the EU. The question we now face is ‘how’ – but this is not a question on a ballot paper.

Since the result, Theresa May’s Government in Westminster has indicated they intend to rely on ancient Royal Prerogative powers to commence the process of leaving the EU, rather than seeking the permission of parliament and facing the scrutiny that comes with that.

It is my belief that the decision to evoke Article 50 to initiate the UK’s exit from the European Union must face the examination of our parliamentary democracy.

An issue that should concern us all is the role of the devolved administrations across the UK in the process of exiting the European Union. Northern Ireland’s First Minister and deputy First Minister recently wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting some of the key challenges that Brexit poses for Northern Ireland.

To date, Theresa May seems only to have paid lip service to an established parliamentary constitutional convention enshrined in the Sewel Convention, a convention which is an important part of the devolution settlement of Northern Ireland. To put it simply - failing to acknowledge a formal role for the devolved administrations within the process of Brexit, and especially given that two of the devolved jurisdictions voted by majority to remain, would be completely unjustifiable.

I have therefore agreed to become part of a group called ‘The People’s Challenge’ – a group of six individuals taking legal action to ensure that leaving the EU can only happen with parliamentary scrutiny and authorisation in the form of an Act of Parliament.

Leaving the European Union will have substantial consequences for the UK as a whole and, as others have already pointed out, there are many quite unique and complex challenges for Northern Ireland in this situation. As a group, we believe that those consequences and challenges should be considered by following due process, and particular to Northern Ireland, in a manner that our devolved institutions have a say in the passing of such an act. 

I will be submitting evidence regarding the significance of ‘how’ we leave the EU on people in Northern Ireland as well as the impact Brexit, in its entirety, will have on students across the UK too. Should students in Northern and the Republic of Ireland decide they wish to study in their neighbouring jurisdiction in the future, we just don’t know enough about the impact Brexit will have.

My aim is to demonstrate that Brexit will have fundamental consequences for students both in Northern Ireland and right across the UK. Our only chance to raise these issues and get the answers we need is through the parliamentary process the government is trying to deny us – we will hold them to account for that.

I am proud to be standing alongside Grahame and Rob Pigney, a father and son, UK citizens now living in France; Paul Cartwright, a Gibraltarian national; Christopher Formaggia, who lives in Wales and Tahmid Chowdhury, a London student, in this action.

Our case will be taking the lead on this issue, and a date has been set for the hearing in October, which will determine the issue once and for all, with a date already being pencilled in for the Supreme Court in December, in the likely event that either party appeal. 

In order to prepare for these proceedings we have collectively crowdfunded to protect us from costs, and to allow us to fund a specialist legal team.  So far, over 1400 people have supported our case and we have fundraised over £50,000.  We have raised sufficient funds to prepare and lodge our grounds however we have more to do to cover the costs of the hearing itself.  We are pushing ahead with fundraising via our crowdjustice page in the run up to the hearing and thank everyone for their support and donations so far.


You can find our more information about the case as it develops here where updates are being posted, but feel free to get in touch with me directly at Fergal.McFerran@nistudents.org should you have any questions.

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