BELFAST, Jan 11 (Reuters) - The potential suspension of Northern Ireland’s regional assembly could force Britain to delay its exit talks from the European Union if London’s Supreme Court rules Belfast’s approval is needed, a lawyer said on Wednesday.
Northern Ireland’s High Court ruled in October that the province’s laws did not restrict British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to trigger an exit from the European Union, and that the consent of the regional parliament was not required.
But human rights activist Raymond McCord appealed against the ruling in Britain’s highest judicial body, which will consider the argument when it rules in the next couple of weeks on whether May can begin the process without the approval of the Westminster parliament.
Likely snap elections in the British-run province that may be followed by lengthy renegotiations on the terms of the power-sharing government could delay May’s plans to begin the talks by the end of March, McCord’s lawyer told Reuters.
“In the current circumstances, where there is a potential suspension of the institutions, the approval of the devolved institutions would not be possible,” Paul Farrell, a partner at McIvor Farrell Solicitors, said in a telephone interview.
“Devolution has obviously added a layer of complexity to the constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom and this case is addressing those complex relationships now.”
The risk of political paralysis in the region as Britain plans its exit from the EU resulted from Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’ resignation on Monday, effectively collapsing the devolved government.
A spokeswoman for May said on Wednesday that the timetable for Britain’s triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which kicks off the EU divorce process, was clear, when asked whether anything in Northern Ireland could derail that process.
“There’s now this limbo before elections can be called, so we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We have been clear on the timetable for triggering Article 50 and we will be sticking to that,” she said. (Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Will James in London, writing by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; editing by Stephen Addison)