On Monday 13 June, the UK Government tabled a Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (The NIP Bill) giving it the power to dis-apply parts of the N Ireland Protocol (NIP), an integral part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The EU’s response was immediate: unfreezing the 2021 legal action commenced in response to the UK’s unilateral decision not to apply checks to incoming goods from GB to N Ireland. In the months to come, the UK may face a second legal action by the EU in respect of The NIP Bill. Without resolution, this issue could ultimately undo the TCA, igniting a trade war between the EU and the UK.
On 14 June, the first UK Government flight taking asylum seekers and refugees from the UK to Rwanda was prevented from taking off by a last minute intervention by an ECHR Judge. This intervention triggered a backlash among right-wing politicians and commentators, who began to call for the UK to withdraw from the Convention itself – a suggestion which was not discounted by the PM when he was asked about it later. It will take several months for the courts to decide whether the policy is legal: during that time, the Government appears to have accepted that no more flights to Rwanda can depart, leaving its flagship immigration policy equally grounded.
But the question of membership of the ECHR matters not only for the important principle of international protection of human rights, but because the ECHR is one of the pillars on which the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) rests. The GFA brought an end to 30 years of The Troubles, and imposed an obligation on the UK to incorporate the Convention into the law of N Ireland to make it directly enforceable in N Ireland’s courts. The UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act did this. Leaving the ECHR, therefore, to force through the Rwanda asylum policy, would breach the GFA, which the UK Government argues The NIP Bill is intended to defend.
How did we get here?