By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's High Court will consider next month whether it can hear a case from a British plaintiff seeking to decide if Britain's divorce from the European Union can be reversed.
Judge Peter Kelly set a hearing for May 31 to decide whether an Irish court can hear a case against Brexit that campaigners hope will ultimately be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a definitive ruling.
If it accepts the case, an Irish court could refer it to the ECJ in Luxembourg soon afterwards and have the issue handled on a European basis.
British tax specialist Jolyon Maugham, the lawyer behind the challenge, said he expected a decision by June or July. If his case clears this hurdle, he expected it could be referred to Luxembourg without much delay.
The backers say Ireland was chosen as their case had to be brought in the EU but outside the UK.
The Irish legal system is similar to Britain's and the plaintiff could argue that Dublin colluded in a breach of the EU Treaties by wrongly excluding Britain from some EU Council meetings after last year's Brexit referendum.
Michael Collins, a lawyer for the Irish state, raised several jurisdictional issues in a preliminary hearing in Dublin on Monday, including whether British citizens are entitled to launch such proceedings in Ireland.
The hearing follows British Prime Minister Theresa May invoking last month of Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, formally notifying Brussels of Britain's intent to leave the EU and triggering two years of formal divorce talks.
The European Parliament has said that Brexit can be reversed with the consent of the remaining EU members, but British government lawyers have said the process cannot now be stopped.
If his case is thrown out, Maugham said he could file an appeal in Dublin, take it to a different EU member state or hope another member state seeks a referral to the ECJ on its own.
The reality, he conceded, was that "the clock is ticking on a not especially long fuse".
"It would be a bloody tragedy for democracy and the United Kingdom if the people came to want to remain in the UK before the two-year clock had expired and they were unable to do so," he told reporters after the hearing.
"This case is about giving the people another referendum if they want one," he said. "The appropriate time to ask the question 'do they want one?' is October of next year. If we get a reference in June, we will have an answer well before then."
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)