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The UK Internal Market Bill Must Address Human Rights and Equality Concerns

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The UK Internal Market Bill Must Address Human Rights and Equality Concerns

Joint Statement from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC):

The UK Government has committed in the EU withdrawal treaty to ensuring that there will be no diminution in Northern Ireland of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as protected by the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

The three Commissions on the island of Ireland are mandated to monitor and oversee this commitment.

The Government has acknowledged that the UK Internal Market Bill “breaks international law, in a very specific and limited way”. By doing so a considerable uncertainty has been introduced regarding the future of the human rights and equality commitments contained within the withdrawal treaty.

The Commissions 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. If necessary, suitable amendments to the Bill should be introduced in Parliament to address our concerns.

Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Les Allamby stated:

“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 the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“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 the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, 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.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will highlight these concerns before the Committee of the Executive Office today.

ENDS

Contact information:

Please contact Claire Martin (NIHRC) at Claire.martin@nihrc.org or on 07717731873

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will provide evidence to The Committee of the Executive Office on 14 October from Approx. 2.30pm. Watch live here

2. The NI Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission have issued a joint briefing on the Internal Markets Bill. Read it here

3. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill 2019-21 is currently passing through Westminster. Read more about the Bill here

4. Brexit- Roles of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)

· The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement includes the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. The Protocol reflects the commitment made by the UK Government to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In particular, the UK Government committed that the withdrawal will not lead to any diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as set out in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, including in the area of protection against discrimination (Article 2(1)).

· In the context of the Article 2 commitment, The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will work together to provide oversight of, and reporting on, rights and equalities issues falling within the scope of the commitment that have an island of Ireland dimension.

· Schedule 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 confers new functions on both the NI Commissions (ECNI and NIHRC), to enable each to act as part of the ‘dedicated mechanism’ (DM), to monitor, advise, report on and enforce the UK’s adherence to its commitment that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. This is due to come into force at the end of the transition period, 31 December 2020.


14 Oct 2020

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