Northern Irelands post-Brexit deal threatens human rights protections

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A proposed bill which would tear up sections of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit deal poses a significant threat to human rights protections, a new report says. Talks ahead of negotiations between UK and EU officials have reportedly restarted. However, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is due for its second reading in the House of Lords this week.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who drafted the bill as Foreign Secretary, insisted the proposed legislation is consistent with Britain’s obligations under international law and in support of the country’s prior obligations in the Belfast Good Friday agreement.

But this has been challenged in a joint report produced by academics at the Human Rights Centre in Queen’s University Belfast and the Donia Human Rights Centre at the University of Michigan.

They said despite assurances from the Government the legislation “empowers ministers to undermine hard-won human rights protections contained in the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement and protected in the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated with the European Union (EU)”.

One of the authors of the report, Professor Christopher McCrudden of Queen’s University Belfast, urged the House of Lords to act.

He said: “The House of Lords has the opportunity to fix this unacceptable and reckless unpicking of the protections that the EU and the UK agreed in the protocol to safeguard the human rights protections in the Northern Ireland peace agreement.”

The Good Friday Agreement includes a section on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity.

In the study, the academics voice concern the UK’s exit from the EU would weaken these existing human rights and equality mechanisms in Northern Ireland.

The report also finds the UK Government is acting contrary to international law through the introduction of the bill, unless it can offer a justification for the breach.

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The authors contend the attempt to ground such a justification in necessity fails, providing no justification.

The report concludes: “There are neither political nor legal justifications for these actions. In particular, the UK Government’s claim of necessity has no legal basis in general and none in respect of Article 2 (of the European Convention on Human Rights).”

Responding to the report, a UK Government spokeswoman said: “The bill is consistent with our obligations in international law – and in support of our prior obligations to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”

The UK Government published legislation in June in a bid to tackle disruption to post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland. It sets out measures the Government says are needed to protect peace in the province.

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The Government said at the time it believed conditions had been reached to justify the “doctrine of necessity” which allows an administrative authority to employ extraconstitutional measures to restore order or stability.

Under the bill, Britain would introduce green and red lanes backed by commercial data and a trusted trader scheme for goods.

The green lane would be for products staying in the UK, and red for those going to the EU or being moved by traders not in the trader scheme.

To protect the EU’s single market, the bill would see robust penalties introduced for those who seek to abuse the system.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) warned the British Government on Saturday there is no way they will restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland unless the post-Brexit trade checks to the region are removed.

After a lengthy stalemate, Britain and the European Union resumed talks this week on how to fix problems relating to the protocol.

A day after Ireland and Britain talked up an improved mood in talks, members gathered at the DUP’s annual conference said they feared being let down by London again after being promised there would be no checks when the Brexit deal was struck.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The Government needs to tread sensitively and act wisely if they wish to see unionist confidence rebuilt and the conditions created for durable power sharing.”

Perceptions the protocol erodes Northern Ireland’s place in the UK have sparked anger among many in pro-British communities.

The DUP resigned its post of first minister in February in protest at the checks. It has refused to enter the devolved parliament since elections in May.

The Stormont Assembly, a key part of a 1998 peace deal, cannot function without the DUP’s support.

Describing the protocol as a “heinous imposition,” DUP chairman Maurice Morrow said there was no prospect of the party re-entering government unless the protocol is replaced.

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