Neglect of Socio-economic Rights
The EU (Withdrawal) Act does not include any explicit saver for the vast areas of socio-economic rights and issues. It is the subject of considerable criticism including that it is deeply ambiguous and confers excessive powers to make secondary legislation. There will be possibilities for UK Ministers or indeed NI Executive Ministers to make changes in these areas without adequate democratic oversight, and this could have a concerning impact on the area of socio-economic rights that are already under attack from austerity, welfare reform and budget cuts. Brexit will also likely mean that there will be no access to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU); this has led to considerable anxiety about the prospects for socio-economic rights in particular. Socio-economic issues but more significantly socio-economic rights have been central to the understanding of the NI conflict.
Peace, Human Rights and Stability
There is a close link between economic stability and peace. Patricia McKeown of UNISON has pointed out the importance of protections for socio-economic rights in coming to a peace settlement for NI – particularly the promotion of equality for workers. Further threat to the peace process could also have serious implications for the enjoyment of socio-economic rights and the future of NI as a peaceful society. The EU is directly relevant to the protection of socioeconomic rights and equality in NI and inextricably linked to the peace process. There is special significance in relation to equality law and many examples over the years where EU equality directives have been applied in NI during times when it could have been hard to get political movement on an issue.
The Socio-Economic Impact of Brexit
BrexitLawNI has heard from stakeholders, the public and many interviewees from across varying sectors about the impact of Brexit, including that NI Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could possibly drop by 12% and that workers’ rights are at risk of being negatively impacted. The Common Travel Area (CTA), health provision and education are all matters of deep anxiety for people living across the island as there are no clear answers to how these will continue to work. There are already impacts arising for people who live rurally and on border areas and there is a serious and real threat to the peace process that was so hard fought for.
- The EU (Withdrawal) Act should be amended or alternative provision made to provide explicit protections for EU standards in the fields of equality and discrimination law, workers’ rights, environmental rights (both in relation to devolved and UK authorities) and socio-economic rights.
- Legislate for a Bill of Rights for NI to enshrine socio-economic rights and help build a rights-based society that will ensure sustainable peace.
- Protect the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK (or Northern Irish) Law post-Brexit to safeguard and underpin human rights standards.
- More detailed consideration needs to be given to the draft Protocol in the draft Withdrawal Agreement to ensure it reflects an appropriate recognition of the need for enforceable human rights guarantees that respect the commitments in the Joint Report.
- Use Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to make sure that all policies relating to and following from Brexit are properly equality impact assessed including in the area of socio-economic rights across the nine protected categories. That any adverse impacts should have mitigating measures to address them and this should include a gendered impact assessment.
- Strengthen equality by legislating for a Single Equality Act.
- All participants in the negotiations must ensure full account is taken of the long-term socio-economic impact of Brexit on the NI economy to ensure enduring respect for human rights.
- NI should remain within the single market and customs union and there should be no new barriers to trade either North-South or East-West.
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