Northern Ireland Protocol Bill threatens human rights protections, report finds

The Northern Ireland Protocol poses a “significant threat” to human rights protections, according to a new report.

As foreign secretary, Liz Truss visited County Antrim businesses in May 2022. (PA)

The Bill, which cleared its first stage in the Commons is being considered by peers in the House of Lords.

It tears up the UK’s Brexit agreements with the EU over the treatment of Northern Ireland.

“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.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss introduced the Bill as Foreign Secretary in May.

She said it is “consistent with our obligations in international law and in support of our prior obligations in the Belfast Good Friday agreement”.

A joint report produced by the Human Rights Centre in Queen’s University Belfast and the Donia Human Rights Centre at the University of Michigan challenge this.

They say that the Bill “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, Professor Christopher McCrudden of Queen’s University Belfast, urged the House of Lords to act.

Joint report co-author Professor Christopher McCrudden of Queen’s University Belfast

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 express concern that the UK’s exit from the EU weakens existing human rights and equality mechanisms in Northern Ireland.

It says the UK is “acting contrary to international law” through the introduction of the Bill, unless it can offer a justification.

The authors reject the attempted justification of “necessity” as unjustified.

The report says: “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).”

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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