Human rights bodies north and south have aired their concerns about equality issues in the Brexit era.
A joint statement from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) demands no diminution of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity protected by the Belfast Good Friday Agreement (GFA), in the EU withdrawal treaty.
The three commissions on the island of Ireland are mandated to monitor and oversee this commitment.
The statement continues that the British Government has acknowledged that the UK Internal Market Bill “breaks international law, in a very specific and limited way”.
The bodies say that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the future of the human rights and equality commitments contained within the withdrawal treaty.
The commissions are calling on the UK Government to provide an assurance that the Internal Market Bill will have no adverse effects on the no-diminution obligation.
If necessary, suitable amendments to the bill should be introduced in Parliament to address concerns, they say.
Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC Les Allamby said: “As it stands the bill enables UK Ministers to override the human rights and equality protections of the Belfast Agreement in the interest of the Internal Market.
“We remain concerned that the bill may have negative consequences for human rights and equality.”
Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the IHREC added: “The UK Government’s legally binding commitment that there would be no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality stemming from Brexit threatens to become a dead letter, subject to the UK Government’s slightest whim, if this legislation passes in its current form.
“Rule-of-law is to rights what democracy is to politics. Without these fundamental guarantees, we risk losing much hard-won ground.
“My message to those who are negotiating in board rooms in Brussels, London and Dublin is to maintain a focus on rights and equality and to prioritise the lives, livelihoods and peace of our populations.”
Geraldine McGahey OBE, Chief Commissioner of the ECNI, said: “We have made clear to the UK Government that the bill must not undermine its commitments under the EU withdrawal treaty to ensuring the non- diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity.
“We call on the UK Government to make all necessary and appropriate changes to the bill to ensure this commitment, and the associated rights and remedies available to individuals in relation to this commitment, are not undermined.”