NI Protocol Bill (it’s still kickin’!) – HRC Written Evidence
November 23, 2022
As the law-breaking NI Protocol Bill continues its steady passage through the House of Lords, their EU Affairs Sub-Committee wrapped up its scrutiny of the Bill by publishing all written evidence received and sending a letter to the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly MP, outlining their concerns with the Bill and the engagement they had undertaken.
Our submission, which you can find on the Sub-Committee’s website and at the bottom of this page, outlined our opposition to the Bill on a number of grounds.
Primarily, we believe that any changes to the Protocol should be made through the established mechanisms in place and through mutual negotiation, rather than unilaterally enabling the removal of whole chunks of the agreement. Clause 15, enabling UK Government Ministers to unilaterally alter huge swathes of the Protocol, would mark a significant breach of international law and cause irreparable harm to the UK’s relationship with the EU and its standing on the global stage.
We are further concerned about the potential issues regarding how this Bill may interact with the Protocol Article 2 commitment to ‘keep pace’ with various EU equality and anti-discrimination Directives. The removal of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on matters relating to the Protocol, as well as the removal of the application of ECJ case law, may have a knock-on effect on how these Directives are kept pace with and interpreted in domestic courts.
We were pleased to see our perspective on these issues raised directly in the Sub-Committee’s letter to the Secretary of State, alongside similar points raised by colleagues from across the human rights sector locally in academia and civil society.
Our submission also highlighted the massive legal, economic and political disruption that would be caused by this Bill if it were enacted, leaving businesses and individuals dealing with an upended regulatory regime in a time of already pervasive instability and turmoil.
Since the enactment of the Protocol, we have consistently called for increased engagement and consultation with a wider range of stakeholders on issues arising from it, particularly on the UK side and with organisations working in equality and human rights. While there have been a number of ad hoc engagements on this Bill and the Protocol more broadly, it is vital that we move forward with a properly structured, meaningfully inclusive model of engagement, ensuring the breadth of perspectives and views from civil society is heard.
The letter to the Foreign Secretary sent by the Sub-Committee is a welcome intervention, and will hopefully lead to some clarity on several of these key issues. What would be more welcome, though, is if the Bill was abandoned altogether, paving the way for a mutually beneficial negotiated solution to the Protocol woes.
You can find our submission to the Sub-Committee, as well as their letter to the Foreign Secretary, in the resources section below.