Northern Ireland

British withdrawal from European Convention on Human Rights would represent 'fundamental threat' to Good Friday Agreement

Boris Johnson with Northern Ireland Office aide Jonathan Gullis MP
Boris Johnson with Northern Ireland Office aide Jonathan Gullis MP

ANY move by the British government to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) would represent a "fundamental threat" to the Good Friday Agreement, it was claimed last night.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the ECHR was "hardwired" into the 1998 peace accord, while SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole accused the British government of "destructive populist nationalism".

Their remarks came as a number of Tory MPs called for Britain to pull out of the convention after judges at the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction that effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The judgment was made on the basis that it would've infringed the ECHR.

Among the MPs calling for Britain to reject the international protections was Jonathan Gullis, personal private secretary to Brandon Lewis.

However, the Stoke-On-Trent MP withdrew his call after it was pointed out that the Good Friday peace deal requires the UK's participation.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday night, Mr Gullis said the British government "needs to free itself from" the ECHR "entirely".

He wrote: "It is clear that the ECHR prevented the flight from departing, after efforts in UK courts were exhausted. The ECHR has no place in the UK judicial system. The government needs to free itself from it entirely!”.

However, after it was pointed out to the Northern Ireland Office aide that the ECHR helps form the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Gullis edited the final sentence of his post to read: "The ECHR's role in UK law needs looking at urgently!"

Neither Mr Gullis or the NIO yesterday commented on the post.

British Justice Minister Dominic Raab yesterday said the UK would stay within the convention but that new laws could ensure that interim measures from the Strasbourg court could effectively be ignored.

"In relation to the latest intervention from Strasbourg, so-called Rule 39 interim orders, which are not grounded in the European Convention, they're based on the rules and procedure, internal rules of the court," he said.

"I certainly believe they should not have a legally binding effect under UK law."

Mr Farry told The Irish News that he was "deeply concerned" by any attempt to unpick the UK's full adherence to the ECHR.

"The convention and the European Court are essential safeguards against human rights abuses and illegal actions by government – in particular, the ECHR is hardwired into the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"Any such change would constitute a fundamental threat to the agreement."

The North Down MP said it was "hugely ironic" that a time when British ministers were professing a commitment to every aspect of Good Friday Agreement, they were "simultaneously threatening a fundamental plank of the agreement".

Mr O'Toole said the increased hostility to the ECHR was evidence of the "destructive populist nationalism that now dominates that party and the British government".

"But more than that, it makes a mockery of their claims to be protecting the Good Friday Agreement when the provisions of the ECHR are a core part of the agreement," he said.

"There is an increasing sense that this lying rogue government cannot be trusted with our agreement and our institutions."

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said the convention played an important role in both the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit agreement.

"At its heart is about respecting democracy and rule of law – now, more so than ever, that premise should be respected," she said.

?A British government statement said it was committed to the Good Friday Agreement and "maintaining the hard-won gains of the peace process".