Watchdogs press UK government over commitment to Good Friday Agreement
Human rights and equality watchdogs north and south of the border have called on the UK government to ensure the controversial Internal Market Bill does not breach the Good Friday Agreement.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) issued a joint statement over the “considerable uncertainty” introduced by the bill.
The bill casts doubt on the UK government’s commitment in the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that there will be no diminution in Northern Ireland of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as protected by the Good Friday Agreement, they said.
The watchdogs are calling on the UK government to provide an assurance that the Internal Market Bill will have no adverse effects on the no-diminution obligation and, if necessary, suitable amendments to the bill should be introduced in Parliament to address their concerns.
Les Allamby, chief commissioner of NIHRC, said: “As it stands, the bill enables UK Ministers to override the human rights and equality protections of the Belfast Agreement in the interest of the internal market. We remain concerned that the bill may have negative consequences for human rights and equality.
“For this reason the NI Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland have written to the Secretary of State seeking clarity there will be no-diminution of rights and that the relevant obligations within the withdrawal treaty will be implemented in full.”
Sinéad Gibney, chief commissioner of IHREC, said: “The UK government’s legally binding commitment that there would be no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality stemming from Brexit threatens to become a dead letter, subject to the UK government’s slightest whim, if this legislation passes in its current form.
“Rule of law is to rights what democracy is to politics. Without these fundamental guarantees, we risk losing much hard won ground. My message to those who are negotiating in board rooms in Brussels, London and Dublin is to maintain a focus on rights and equality and to prioritise the lives, livelihoods and peace of our populations.”
Geraldine McGahey OBE, chief commissioner of ECNI, said: “We have made clear to the UK government that the Bill must not undermine its commitments under the EU withdrawal treaty to ensuring the non-diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity.
“We call on the UK government to make all necessary and appropriate changes to the Bill to ensure this commitment, and the associated rights and remedies available to individuals in relation to this commitment, are not undermined.”
NIHRC and IHREC highlighted their concerns before a meeting of the Committee of the Executive Office yesterday.