Professor Harvey commented: “This is a profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. Brexit will threaten the peace process and weaken protections for human rights and equality. It risks disrupting North-South cooperation, increasing racist immigration enforcement and dividing British and Irish citizens. It could also reduce international oversight of human rights and introduce a new focus for conflict between divided communities.
“Many of these matters have simply been neglected in the discussions thus far and that must change.”
For 18 months, the BrexitLawNI team has been conducting in-depth interviews, consultations and town hall meetings to explore the possible impact of Brexit on human rights and the peace process. They have met with politicians and officials in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels as well as with business representatives, trade unions and community activists.
The research revealed that there is widespread anxiety about the long-term impact of Brexit on relationships on the island of Ireland.
“We urgently need a bespoke solution for this region that will minimise the negative impact of Brexit and provide a positive way forward. The recommendations we make can form the basis of that specific solution and we will continue to work with others to make this happen. It remains clear that Northern Ireland will require a special arrangement if the problems we identify are to be credibly addressed,” said Professor Harvey.
The study, consisting of a series of six interlinked reports, examined the potential impact of Brexit on social and economic rights, North-South relations, the Irish border, human rights and equality protections, racism and xenophobia, and the peace process.
The recommendations include the following:
- There is a clear need for a Protocol that fully respects the commitments given in the EU-UK Joint Report including that there be ‘no diminution’ in relation to human rights and equality.
- The unique circumstances of Northern Ireland must be reflected in the future EU-UK relationship and any specific solutions that are proposed.
- A hard border would further undermine political relations within NI, between NI and the ROI, and between the UK and Irish governments. It would also, inevitably, become a target for dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.
- The UK government should guarantee equality of rights of Irish and British citizens through the concept of equal citizenship.
- The UK and Ireland should initiate a process to codify and legally underpin the Common Travel Area (CTA) both in relation to free movement and reciprocal associated rights. This should include a treaty with a clear dispute resolution mechanism, and be enshrined in domestic law including through the NI Bill of Rights.
- The CTA codification of rights of free movement should explicitly incorporate the existing UK policy position that there will be no passport checks on the land border or Irish Sea and no racial profiling. Both states should discontinue existing operations that lead to such checks (and racial profiling) and amend legislation to provide additional safeguards.
- Official initiatives to monitor and tackle paramilitarism should include specific work on tackling racist (including sectarian) expression, intimidation and violence.
- EU freedom of movement should be retained in NI. It has so far not proven possible to envisage any other solution that is not going to create multiple new differentials in entitlements - making further racial profiling and broader discrimination even more widespread.
- Urgent detail is required on the undertaking that the people of NI who claim Irish citizenship will be entitled to EU citizenship rights.
- There is a need to legislate for a Bill of Rights for NI to enshrine socio-economic rights and help build a rights-based society that will ensure sustainable peace.
- NI should remain within the single market and customs union and there should be no new barriers to trade either North-South or East-West.
The study also found that Brexit has had a political impact across the island of Ireland in ‘mainstreaming’ discussions on Irish reunification.
Professor Rory O’Connell, Director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, said: “The 1998 Agreement found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the border, embedding these in a rights-respecting framework. Brexit risks unpicking these carefully, painfully-worked out solutions. These reports identify recommendations that, going forward, maintain the centrality of rights and equality.”
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, added: “There is a real danger that Brexit could re-ignite conflict here. As the leaving process lurches ever nearer to a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit, there is a risk of nationalists becoming more and more disillusioned at the disregarding of the will of the majority here while unionists coalesce in defence of Brexit and the Border.
“The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people. We need to stop, take stock and together work out solutions for this region.”