Brexit holds grave risks for Northern Ireland, study warns

Research suggests Brexit may unpick peace process and weaken human rights

Brexit will cause more division in Northern Ireland and hamper relations with the Republic, a new study has warned.

The research by Queen's University Belfast, Ulster University and the Committee on the Administration of Justice contends that the UK's departure from the EU will have detrimental consequences for the peace process and also weaken human rights and equality protections.

BrexitLawNI is led by Prof Colin Harvey from the school of law at Queen's.

He described Brexit as a "profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland".


“Brexit will threaten the peace process and weaken protections for human rights and equality,” he added. “It risks disrupting North-South co-operation, increasing racist immigration enforcement and dividing British and Irish citizens.

“It could also reduce international oversight of human rights and introduce a new focus for conflict between divided communities. Many of these matters have simply been neglected in the discussions thus far, and that must change.”

The report comes following 18 months of research involving interviews, consultations and town hall-style events.

Researchers also met with politicians and officials in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels as well as with business representatives, trade unions and community activists.

The academics say they detect “widespread anxiety” about the long-term impact of Brexit across Ireland.

They have called for a “bespoke solution for this region”.

No hard border

Recommendations from the study include that Northern Ireland remains within the customs union and single market.

It also warns against a hard border, arguing that this would “further undermine political relations” and could become a target for dissident republicans.

Prof Rory O'Connell, director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, warned that Brexit risks unpicking the Belfast Agreement.

“The 1998 Agreement found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the Border, embedding these in a rights-respecting framework,” he said.

“Brexit risks unpicking these carefully, painfully-worked-out solutions.

“These reports identify recommendations that, going forward, maintain the centrality of rights and equality.”

Brian Gormally, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said Brexit could even "reignite the conflict".

He added: “As the leaving process lurches ever nearer to a hard or no-deal Brexit, there is a risk of nationalists becoming more and more disillusioned at the disregarding of the will of the majority here, while unionists coalesce in defence of Brexit and the Border.

“The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people. We need to stop, take stock and together work out solutions for this region.” – PA