Six preliminary reports on the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland have been published by BrexitLawNI, a project set up to produce accessible materials on the potential human rights and equality significance of Britain leaving the EU. The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and spearheaded by the Law Schools of Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University in collaboration with human rights NGO, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).
Written in response to the UK Government position papers on Northern Ireland and Ireland published in August of this year, each of the reports discuss a different area of particular of concern for Northern Irish society following Brexit, focusing on the implications it will have on human rights. They cover Brexit and Socio-economic Rights, Brexit, Xenophobia and Racism in Northern Ireland, Brexit and the Peace Process, Brexit, Human Rights and Equality Issues, Brexit and the Border and Brexit and North-South Relations.
The reports contribute to the ongoing constitutional conversation on the consequences of Brexit in Northern Ireland. They provide a brief overview of the repercussions of Brexit on human rights and equality in Northern Ireland and propose measures to protect human rights and equality throughout the Brexit process. The intention is for the reports to be updated in conjunction with any developments in negotiations. The particular emphasis of the papers is the recommendation to implement ‘a robust framework of human rights and equality guarantees’ to underpin the current protections under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and EU legislation and to safeguard the rights of every person within the jurisdiction.
Brexit and Socio-economic Rights:
This report highlights the historical significance of socio-economic issues in Northern Ireland given the role they played in the escalation of violence during the Troubles and the entrenchment of equality and subsequent entanglement of socio-economic rights in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Determining the UK position paper’s ‘limited focus on socio-economic rights and equality to be ‘skewed’, the report outlines certain main concerns facing Northern Ireland following Brexit. In particular the report considers the narrow focus of the definition of equality, the ambiguity of the UK commitment to socio-economic rights, the uncertainty of reciprocal socio-economic rights that have evolved bilaterally between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the loss of a ‘neutral’ backdrop provided by the EU to uphold equality laws and, in certain regards, to drive progress. The report calls for the equality law framework in Northern Ireland to be fortified with particular regard to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and suggests a Single Equality Act for Northern Ireland as a sensible solution.
Brexit, Xenophobia and Racism in Northern Ireland:
This report shines a light on the potential impact of Brexit on xenophobia and racism in Northern Ireland. In particular it raised concerns regarding the treatment of minority ethnic communities following Brexit, the consequences of the uncertainty surrounding the border for these communities and the adequacy of the current legal framework to deal with burgeoning racism. The report highlights the potential for the erosion of guarantees in relation to rights and equality, the problems with current law and policy, the culture of fear and instability cultivated by the nature of the debate and negotiations as well as the potential impact of immigration controls on migrants and racial and ethnic profiling.
Brexit and the Peace Process:
Given that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was based on the presumption of common membership of the EU Brexit raises considerable concerns as to the stability of the peace process. The report outlines the primary issues for concern regarding the impact of Brexit on the peace process and suggests viable solutions to these concerns.
Brexit, Human Rights and Equality Issues:
The Good Friday Agreement established human rights and equality as fundamental elements of the peace process, thereby affording them special status in Northern Ireland. EU law has since provided additional protection for these rights and expanded their remit. Moreover the EU legal framework established a common standard across the island of Ireland. This report explores the various problems envisaged upon Northern Ireland’s withdrawal from the EU with regards the protection of these rights and the consideration of the rights of migrants and puts forward a number of potential solutions.
Brexit and the Border:
Free movement over the land border is provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit however significantly changes the context of this arrangement and has resulted in considerable uncertainty. With a general consensus against implementing land border controls, ardent unionist opposition to airport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a proposed exemption of Irish citizens from checks and the UK’s commitment to free movement, the dilemmas raised by the border issue are extensive. This report focuses on the ramifications Brexit may have on the border in relation to the possible infringement of human rights, the difficulties EU nationals who are not Irish and minority ethnic communities face, in particular racial profiling, and provides a series of potential solutions.
Brexit and North-South Relations:
Both the Good Friday Agreement and EU membership have ensured the softening of border controls between North and South, the normalisation of movement between the two jurisdictions, harmonious North-South relations and the development of relative ‘constitutional flexibility’ on the island. Brexit however has re-opened the debate on partition and now presents a threat to the productive practical relations between Northern Ireland and the South. The report explores the considerable disruption Brexit has and will cause North-South relations, highlighting in particular the interference to the equality of British and Irish citizenship as enshrined in the GFA and the problems that will arise from this disparity. The report presents the solution of Northern Ireland being designated a ‘special zone’ in which EU citizen’s rights would be protected.
Click here for the reports in full.