10 October 2022

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill threatens human rights protections, report finds

10 October 2022

Proposed new legislation to over-ride sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol poses a “significant threat” to human rights protections, a new report has contended.

Negotiations between UK and EU officials restarted last week. However, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is continuing to make its way through parliament.

The Bill, which is set to be debated in the House of Lords in the coming weeks, would allow the UK Government to effectively tear up parts of the protocol.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who drafted the Bill as Foreign Secretary in May, insisted the Bill is “consistent with our obligations in international law and in support of our 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 that 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.

“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,” he said.

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

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

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

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.”

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