07 November 2018

Leading Irish lawyers attack UK on human rights and Brexit

Lack of progress on human rights after Brexit say leading Irish lawyers, and UK lacks awareness of the difficulties ahead.

Concerns over Britain's lack of progress on the issue of human rights protections after Brexit were highlighted at the Hibernian Law Journal's annual lecture.

‘curious clause’

Ireland’s attorney general Seamus Woulfe highlighted an apparent contradiction in regard to the fundamental rights in the draft withdrawal agreement, which the UK signed in March. The Agreement expressly states that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer apply in the UK after exit day, 29th March 2019. However, he noted in what he called a ‘curious clause’ a later statement in the text the agreement that all fundamental rights protected by the EU Charter shall remain applicable to the UK after exit. This, he said, is further confused by the suggestions in some quarters that the EU Charter rights would only be applicable in the UK to EU citizens. This would mean that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland would enjoy Charter rights, while non-Irish citizens would enjoy only the more limited protections in domestic law, resulting in parallel legal regimes on rights within the UK: one system for EU nationals, and another for UK nationals.

Military occupation

Other speakers at the annual lecture included FLAC chairperson Éilís Barry SC, who is involved in investigating how a British withdrawal from the EU Charter could affect the human rights framework which has been central to the post-Good Friday legal order north of the border. Ms Barry warned, ‘no amount of clever legislative drafting will prevent a drop in human rights protections’ after the Charter loses effect. Her argument was further supported by Doughty Street barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Professor Conor Gearty of LSE, who argued there is a complete lack of awareness for the obvious challenges posed by Brexit for Ireland north and south. Northern Ireland, in what he said was essentially a victory for English nationalism and warned that if there is a no-deal Brexit it will be ‘a political and economic catastrophe for the UK, similar to a military occupation.’