Northern Ireland news

Ministers pressed on Good Friday Agreement issue amid anti-migrants drive

David Lynch and Martina Bet, PA

Ministers would not be drawn into whether a keystone of the Good Friday Agreement could be abandoned in a drive to prevent small boats crossing the English Channel.

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker said the Government remained committed to the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

But he would not be drawn into whether ministers plan to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins the agreement, when questioned by Labour.

Some in Government are eager to withdraw from the Convention and replace it with a British “Bill of Rights”, as part of a series of measures to tackle small boats crossing the channel.

In the Commons, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said: “The European Convention on Human Rights has a unique role in the policing of Northern Ireland. Can the minister assure the House the Government will do nothing to disrupt that relationship?”

Mr Baker replied: “He knows perfectly well that there is a commitment to the Convention in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and we remain steadfastly committed to that agreement.”

Mr Kyle pressed further, responding: “I thank him for his answer, but he knows full well that several of his Cabinet ministers, his colleagues, have pledged to withdraw from the Convention on Human Rights.

“Can he tell the House once and for all that doing so would break the terms of the Good Friday Agreement?”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, who has in the past supported reforms to human rights law and backed a Bill of Rights, could be seen entering the Commons chamber as Mr Baker began to answer.

The Northern Ireland minister said: “Of course, but the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) and I are in touch with our friends across Government as appropriate on this issue.

“The reality is that we will remain committed to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement but he will know that it is imperative that we deal with the humanitarian crisis of boats coming across the Channel with people putting their lives at risk.

“We are going to have to find a way through that problem. That is a particularly tricky issue on which the Home Secretary will lead.”

Elsewhere in the debate, a Labour MP asked how Northern Ireland businesses are expected to make plans for the future when the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is “hanging over their heads”.

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy told the Commons: “It just seems that the only certainty we have with this bonfire Bill is uncertainty.”

The Bill is aimed at scrapping or reforming all remaining EU-based law on the UK's statute books by the end of 2023.

Ms McCarthy added: “We don't know how many laws will be affected by it, although we know it's going to be in the thousands. We don't know how it would work with the existing Northern Ireland Protocol or with whatever revised protocol may exist in a few months' time.

“With this legislative chaos hanging over the heads of Northern Ireland businesses, how are they expected to make plans for the future?”

Mr Baker replied: “Of course, this Government is well aware of the need for people to have regulatory certainty to make plans for the future.

“What I will say to her: she can be absolutely assured that we will make sure that we meet all of our international obligations, including under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Protocol and the withdrawal agreement.”

Northern Ireland news