Brexit approach threatens peace process -  UK government will be warned by Northern Ireland groups tomorrow

  • Press release by the Repeal Bill Alliance, for immediate use
  • For further information contact Jane Thomas, co-ordinator of the Repeal Bill Alliance, on 07957 240826 or jane.thomas@repealbill.org

A delegation representing civil society groups in Northern Ireland will be meeting with peers and MPs tomorrow (Tuesday 27th March) to express their concern that Brexit threatens the hard-won peace settlement and could potentially undermine the rights of citizens [1]. For these groups the issues in Northern Ireland are not about goods and services but about people. It is about protecting the rights afforded to people on both sides of the border with the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, an agreement that sees its twentieth anniversary on April 10th.

Kevin Hanratty, director of the Human Rights Consortium- a broad alliance of civil society organisations from across all Northern Ireland will be attending tomorrow's meeting with peers and MPs. He said:

“The UK Government claims the EU Withdrawal Bill is an honest attempt to ensure an orderly and seamless legal transition as the UK leaves the EU. For Northern Ireland, the bill as currently drafted threatens the maintenance of a finely balanced set of checks and balances that were established through our peace process.
 
There is a serious disconnect between on the one hand the objective of protecting the Agreement and human rights and on the other the reality of the resulting legal and political landscape from the bill. Whilst on the international stage the UK government may claim that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement will be protected with non-diminution of rights in Northern Ireland, the reality of the legislative agenda in the Withdrawal Bill means dramatic changes to both".

This comes on the back of the Joint Commission (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission) policy statement on March 14th asking for the Withdrawal Agreement to provide for the continuing North-South equivalence of rights post-Brexit as established under the 1988 agreement [2]. Kevin Hanratty explains that : 
 
"Crucially abandoning the Charter of Fundamental Rights impacts significantly on Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that recently published a hard hitting report on the land border. EU human rights law provided the legal basis under which many of the North/South areas of cooperation were able to be conducted as part of the Strand 2 elements of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”. 
 
Joining Kevin Hanratty will be Paddy Kelly from the Children's Law Centre, one of the leading children's charities in Northern Ireland; aniel Holder, Deputy Director of  the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) that seeks the highest standards in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland; and John-Patrick Clayton from the union Unison.

Following the briefing with MPs and peers, John Grogan MP will be hosting a press briefing with the delegation [3]. The Keighley MP is a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that recently published a hard-hitting report on the border [4]. He says:

"For me all the evidence we heard pointed to the fact that the Government’s twin objectives of decoupling the United Kingdom from the Single Market and the Customs Union and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland may well be incompatible.  You simply have to look at what happens at the border between Sweden and Norway, countries far more integrated with the EU than the government intends us to be, or the situation on the Swiss border to realise this. 

It is surely time for ministers to spell out exactly how they are going to avoid a hard border. Vague talk of the use of technology and ‘trusted traders’ simply won’t cut the mustard, a year away from our leaving date. I fear that the Government has an imaginary solution to this problem that they would like to be true, just as some people have an imaginary friend who they would like to be real".

ENDS

Notes for Editors: 

[1] The Draft Agreement n the withdrawal of the UK and Northern Ireland from the EU was published o 19 March. There are still several areas where agreement has not been reached - notably with Northern Ireland, where a "backstop" solution for the border is to be applied until an agreed solution is found. There are also many concerns around rights, justice and qualities for the people of Northern Ireland as we leave the EU.

[2] Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement Joint Committee Warns of Brexit Human Rights and Equality Concerns

[3] A Press Briefing with orthern Ireland ivil Society Groups will take place on Tuesday 27th March at 6.15 in Conference Room A  No. 1 Parliament Stree (entrance marked F on the map )

[4] Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, 2nd Report: The land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland: 

“The UK Government and the EU have both expressed their commitment to avoiding a hard border, including physical infrastructure or related checks and controls. The Joint Report of 8 December 2017 sets out three distinct solutions for resolving border arrangements: the overall EU-UK relationship, specific solutions provided by the UK or, in absence of agreed solution, full alignment with those rules of the Customs Union and Single Market which support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and protection of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. We heard numerous proposals for how regulatory and customs compliance measures could be enacted away from the border using tools such as joint policing, mobile patrols, risk analysis, cameras and digital customs declarations.

We have, however, had no visibility of any technical solutions, anywhere in the world, beyond the aspirational, that would remove the need for physical infrastructure at the border. We recommend the Government bring forward detailed proposals, without further delay, that set out how it will maintain an open and invisible border. These proposals should provide detail about how customs compliance will be enforced if there is regulatory and tariff divergence between the UK and Ireland”
 

The Repeal Bill Allianceformed earlier this year, comprises over 80 organisations ranging from large UK-wide organisations, those in the devolved nations and regions, and smaller, bespoke advocacy and campaign groups. It is calling on MPs and peers to amend the Bill to ensure clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to UK ministers, along with open and accountable law making in the transition process; and to maintain a high standards UK. For more information visit the Alliance’s website: https://repealbill.org/



 

Malene Bratlie