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Windsor Framework And Good Friday Agreement Could Clash With Rwanda Bill

(Alamy)

3 min read

Passing the Rwanda Bill could leave the UK with “two sets of contradictory legal obligations”, according to peers who believe that human rights protections afforded by the Good Friday Agreement and Windsor Framework are at odds with the controversial plans.

Crossbench peer Nuala O’Loan, who was the first Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, said ministers should “find another way” to tackle the small boats issue. Rishi Sunak's government is currently set on plans to deport migrants who arrive illegally in the UK this way to Rwanda. 

As the legislation now makes its way through the Lords, it is believed that two key arrangements with Northern Ireland could pose the latest challenge to the policy that has faced numerous legal obstacles since its inception.

Article 2 of the Windsor Framework – the deal between the UK and the EU that adjusted the Northern Ireland Protocol for post-Brexit trade across the Irish sea – protects the rights afforded to people under the Good Friday Agreement. Adherence with the European Convention on Human Rights is written into the 1998 agreement, "with direct access to the courts and remedies for breach of the convention". 

The Safety of Rwanda Bill includes an introductory statement from Home Secretary James Cleverly stating that ministers are "unable" to confirm the provisions of the Bill "are compatible with Convention rights".

Baroness O’Loan told PoliticsHome that she wants to see small boat crossings and trafficking stopped, but she does not “think the Rwanda Bill is the way”.

“If the Rwanda Bill is passed and the odds are it will be passed, we will have two sets of contradictory legal obligations," she said. 

“We'll have a set of legal obligations under the Windsor Framework, which is only a couple of years old, then the Rwanda bill will empower the UK to deprive people of their rights under the Windsor Framework if they're in Northern Ireland. 

“So what is the answer? The answer is we find another way, because the Rwanda Bill is just awful.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has recommended that the legislation “requires immediate and thorough re-assessment”.

In a report published last month, the commission advised that “the present Bill does not consider the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and the integral role of both the Human Rights Act and ECHR in the complex fabric of the NI Peace Process and devolution”.

They added: “The NIHRC is particularly concerned that the present Bill appears to be incompatible with obligations under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement to incorporate the ECHR and provide direct access to the courts.”

Labour Baroness and former leader of the SDLP Margaret Ritchie also noted the NIHC assessments. “We have to be concerned if there is any undermining of the ECHR because it’s fundamental to our equality and human rights provisions, and in turn to the Good Friday Agreement,” she told PoliticsHome.  

“I think we just have to be careful about that.” 

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on Monday night, Home Office minister in the Lords,  Lord Sharpe said that the government remains “fully committed” to the human rights afforded by the Good Friday Agreement. 

He told peers that “the Bills do not diminish the rights and commitments we have made on the convention on human rights in the Belfast Agreement”. 

He added: “The government are unshakable in their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the Bill does not undermine this.” 

A government spokesperson said: “Bold, innovative solutions are needed to tackle illegal migration and that is exactly what we are doing with this ground-breaking legislation. 

“The Rwanda Bill has been drafted to remain within our international obligations. The Bill will apply in full in Northern Ireland, and the Government is clear that nothing in the Windsor Framework affects its proper operation on a UK-wise basis.”

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