Northern Ireland

Welcome for High Court ruling on Illegal Migration Act comes with warning of potential Irish Sea checks

Unionists are worried about an ‘immigration border’

The backlog of older asylum applications awaiting an initial decision had been cut by 95% as of December 28 2023
Mr Justice Humphreys ruled that provisions of the Illegal Migration Act should be disapplied in the north. PICTURE: RICK FINDLER/PA (Rick Findler/PA)

The quashing of elements of the British government’s controversial immigration policy has been hailed as a “good day for human rights”, however, unionists have warned that the ruling could turn Northern Ireland into a “magnet for asylum seekers”.

Both the DUP and TUV – at odds in recent months over the Windsor Framework – have raised concerns about the potential for an “immigration border” in the Irish Sea.

Mr Justice Humphreys ruled that provisions of the Illegal Migration Act should be disapplied in the north as they undermine human rights protections guaranteed in the Good Friday Agreement. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he planned to appeal the judgement.

Sinn Féin said the ruling proved the legislation was “unworkable and not compliant with human rights”.

Mr Justice Michael Humphreys was initially appointed a temporary High Court judge last year
Mr Justice Michael Humphreys

A party spokesperson said Sinn Féin wanted to see an immigration system that was “fair, effective, enforced and human rights compliant”.

“This legislation is cruel and inhumane and has been rightly criticised and challenged by human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Commission,” the spokesperson said.

“The British government must now listen to these concerns and the High Court judgement and ensure there is no diminution of rights as promised in previous agreements.”

DUP leader Gavin Robinson urged the British government to “prevent a fracture in immigration policy” by ensuring it applied UK-wide.

He said the DUP had repeatedly warned the Tories that its legislation would not apply in Northern Ireland.

“The government repeatedly closed its mind to the incompatibility of their legislation with the Northern Ireland Protocol, yet our concerns have been accepted by the High Court in Belfast this morning,” the DUP leader said.

The East Belfast MP said if ministers were to ignore the courts it would “not be merely a case of sleepwalking into the creation of immigration border in the Irish Sea but rather embarking on such a path with eyes wide open”.

“As unionists, we are clear that our national parliament should have the ability to make decisions on immigration that are applicable on a national basis,” Mr Robinson said.

“If that were not the case, it would not only be a constitutional affront but would make Northern Ireland a magnet for asylum seekers seeking to escape enforcement.”

TUV leader Jim Allister also claimed Northern Ireland could be left “wide open as a magnet for asylum seekers”.

He said the ruling showed EU law took precedence in the north.

“Yet another humiliation and savaging of UK sovereignty as NI is again found to be an EU colony where the writ of Brussels, not London, runs,” the TUV leader said.

“Here again the DUP’s Safeguarding the Union document is exposed as a sham as its promises in paragraph 46 that the Rwanda Bill is untouched by the protocol are shredded by the High Court.”

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was “encouraging” the Windsor Framework and Good Friday Agreement was protecting Northern Ireland from the UK Government’s “horrible” immigration.

He said he was hopeful the ruling would have implications for the Rwanda Act.

“The UK government should now repeal both acts, and put in place an alternative, humanitarian policy for dealing with migration based on the provision of more safe and legal routes, faster processing of asylum claims, and better focus on integrating refugees into our economy and society,” Mr Farry said.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna said those fleeing conflict and climate breakdown needed “partnership across countries and investment in processing, not hundreds of millions wasted in a performance of cruelty”.

“Good Friday and subsequent agreements promised no diminution of rights protections and it is appropriate that this was upheld in court today,” she said.