Speech of George Katrougalos in the debate on the Report titled “The impact of Brexit on human rights on the island of Ireland”, 13/10/2022


Many thanks, Mister Chair.

As you can imagine this issue, the impact of Brexit on the human rights and the island of Ireland is one of the most important political issues both in Ireland itself and in Northern Ireland.

I tried to investigate not just the political arguments, but through my travelling both to Dublin and Belfast and later on in London, to try to understand also the fears and the concerns, not just of politicians but of ordinary people. And I had a chance to meet NGOs and I had the invaluable help of Mr Elia Boggia from the Secretariat. And also I have been in full discussion with the political representatives of four political parties in Ireland, most political parties in Northern Ireland, the UUP did not accept to discuss with me. And unfortunately I did not have the chance to discuss with the representatives of the British government, although I tried to initiate some channels of communication asking even for teleconference if this was possible.

These are the findings hugely endorsed in almost unanimity by the political committee.

The Good Friday agreement ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland and it had as a postulate that both UK and Ireland have been partners in the European Union.

The United Kingdoms withdrawal has shaken this delicate balance created by the peace process and now threatens the common human rights space previously shared by all people in the island.

While the Northern Ireland protocol was introduced to limit the consequences of Brexit and especially avoid a hard border, and although it has had an overall positive economic effect on Northern Ireland, the latest rhetoric by some sides of the political spectrum has been divisive.

Although polls repeatedly saw that the protocol is not the primary concern for the population. Although trade is not the basic problem in the island, yet the protocol is used as a pretext to hold the public institutions as hostage.

The third governance provided in the Good Friday agreement cannot function because the main unionist party refuses to collaborate with the government according to the provisions of the Good Friday agreement.

And we have some very worrisome unilateral initiatives by the United Kingdom.

At the level of the trade negotiations with the European Union, we had the introduction of a bill on the 13 June 2022 which unilaterally changes core elements of the protocol.

The European Union described it as a clear breach of international law. And this move risks further destabilising this delicate post-Brexit situation. Especially Article 2 of the protocol, which guarantees the non-diminution of rights as a result of the Brexit, should be safeguarded at all cost.

Then we had the introduction by the British government, on the 22 June of 2022, of a bill to overhaul the 1998 Human Rights Act. Recently, the new Truss government has withdrawn this bill, but only temporarily.

So, any further act towards the modification of the Human Rights Act risks to further destabilise the situation. Exactly if it’s going to add hurdles for those seeking redress in courts, having as a basis the European Convention of Human Rights.

There are other worrisome facts.

More than two decades after the Good Friday agreement, we had a failure to properly and thoroughly address the legacy of the Troubles.

UK has passed a related bill on the Northern Ireland Troubles, the so-called Legacy and Reconciliation Bill, but without thorough discussion and consultation neither with the government of Ireland nor with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

And there are serious concerns about the compatibility of this bill with the European Convention of Human Rights.

In concluding, the implementation of the Good Friday agreement must be an utmost priority not just for the parts involved – the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland – but also for us all.

Parties should seek in a constructive spirit practical solutions in order to ensure the smooth and official implementation of the protocol. Especially the UK should avoid any unilateral acts, it should reconsider it’s current proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, and we should all of us continue to support ways of making Northern Ireland institutions more stable and more resistant to political turbulence.

Many thanks, Mister Chairman.