Human rights and equality protections in Northern Ireland `will be weakened by Brexit'

Professor Colin Harvey from QUB said it is `a profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland'

HUMAN rights and equality protections in Northern Ireland will be "weakened" by Brexit, which will also damage its peace process, major new research has found.

The study, launched today at Queen's University Belfast, is by researchers from BrexitLawNI - a partnership between both Belfast university's Schools of Law and human rights experts from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).

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.

BrexitLawNI conducted in-depth interviews, consultations and town hall meetings to explore the possible impact of Brexit.

Those interviewed included politicians and officials in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels, business representatives, trade unions and community activists.

They discovered "widespread anxiety about the long-term impact of Brexit on relationships on the island of Ireland".

The team was led by Professor Colin Harvey from QUB.

"This is a profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland," he said.

"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.

"We urgently need a bespoke solution for this region that will minimise the negative impact of Brexit and provide a positive way forward."

He claimed the group's recommendations "can form the basis of that specific solution".

These include a protocol that fully respects the commitments given in the EU-UK Joint Report, including that there be `no diminution' of human rights and equality.

It also calls for "the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland" to be reflected in the future EU-UK relationship.

The report warns a hard border would "undermine political relations within NI, between NI and the ROI, and between the UK and Irish governments" and "inevitably" become a target for dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

The study demands the UK government guarantee equality of rights of Irish and British citizens through the concept of "equal citizenship" and both governments to begin to "codify and legally underpin the Common Travel Area" with a treaty which has "a clear dispute resolution mechanism".

It stresses the importance of "no passport checks on the land border or Irish Sea and no racial profiling", with EU freedom of movement should be retained in the north, which should also remain within the single market and customs union.

The research says any other solutions risk "making further racial profiling and broader discrimination even more widespread".

It calls for "urgent detail" to ensure people in the north claiming Irish citizenship are entitled to EU citizenship rights.

Professor Rory O'Connell, director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, said the Good Friday agreement "found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the border".

Brian Gormally, director of CAJ, warned there is "a real danger that Brexit could re-ignite conflict here".

"The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people," he said.

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