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NI organisations express shock at the peace process being used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations by UK government

Civil society organisations in Northern Ireland have warned against the peace process and the rights of Northern Irish people being used as a bargaining chip in the latest round of negotiations on the trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Alarm bells were set off when the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis stated in the House of Commons on Tuesday 8 September 2020 that provisions in the Internal Market Bill would “break international law”(1).

The UK Government has claimed that these changes are intended to protect peace in Northern Ireland. This contradicts what Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons in October 2019, shortly after the withdrawal agreement draft text was published, when he stated that the treaty as it stood was already in “perfect conformity with the Good Friday agreement” (2).

Civil society organisations in Northern Ireland that have played a crucial part in upholding the peace process have expressed concerns about how this would affect the application of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, which is considered vital to upholding the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland, said that the Protocol sits “at the heart of protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the principle of non-diminution of rights as the UK exits the EU”, and called for international law and the legal commitments already in place to be “respected and upheld.” Meanwhile, Brian Gormally, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, called the Secretary of State’s statement “shocking”, and highlighted how a binding international treaty now seemed to be “at the whim of government ministers” and could be “ripped up as part of a negotiating tactic”. Paddy Kelly, Director of the Children’s Law Centre in Northern Ireland expressed her “deep concerns” about the UK government’s latest move and said, “their actions threaten the peace process of all children and young people in Northern Ireland”.

The main elements in question are the detailed arrangements for Northern Ireland – Great Britain trade, and the rules on state subsidies known as state aid rules. These matters were to be agreed in the Joint UK/EU Committee which implements the Protocol, and are crucial to avoid a hard border on the island, which would devastate the peace settlement.

Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland:
“The UK Government’s statement today that it would be willing to break international law should a trade deal with the EU fail has a direct and clearly worrying impact on the future application of the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol.

“The Protocol was at the heart of protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the principle of non-diminution of rights as the UK exits the EU. If the UK Government are already stating that they are prepared to renege on its commitments under this agreement, before the transition period has even ended, then it bodes poorly for the future of other elements of that Agreement as we move forward. The principle of respect for international law and the legal commitments already in place under the Withdrawal Agreement and EU Withdrawal Act need to be respected and upheld.”

Brian Gormally, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice:
“With this shocking statement from Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, the UK Government demonstrated its contempt for the rule of law and the peace process on the island of Ireland.

“What was to be agreed is now to be at the whim of government ministers. What was regarded as binding international law is now to be ripped up as part of a negotiating tactic. How is it now possible to have any trust in the good faith of this government?”

Paddy Kelly, Director of the Children’s Law Centre in Northern Ireland: 
“The Children’s Law Centre is deeply concerned about the UK government’s intention to unpick the Withdrawal Agreement and Ireland/NI Protocol and their willingness to ‘break international law’. It is clear the UK government has given no consideration to the implications for the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement, another international treaty they have failed to fully implement. Their actions threaten the peace process and the future of all children and young people in NI”

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator, on robyn@caj.org.uk or 075 1994 1203.

Footnotes

(1) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54073836

(2) https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2019-10-19a.569.2#g583.2

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