Weekly Update 20 May 2022
Weekly Update 20 May 2022
On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, announced to the House of Commons that the UK Government would be introducing legislation to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. The United Kingdom seems to be going outside of the framework provided by the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol to resolve difficulties in a move reminiscent of the UK Internal Market Bill clauses from 2020, which were widely criticised for undermining the Rule of Law by contravening the UK's international obligations, including in a series of Bingham Centre reports. The clauses were defeated in the House of Lords and the Government then abandoned them.
The announcement has prompted criticism from the EU, with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič issuing a statement that "the EU will need to respond with all measures at its disposal" if the legislation goes ahead.
Strikingly, Conservative MPs have also raised Rule of Law concerns. The Chair of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, Simon Hoare, stated in the Commons that "Respect for the rule of law runs deep in our Tory veins and I find it extraordinary that a Tory government needs to be reminded of that". The Foreign Secretary responded that the Bill was legal in international law, and that the Government will set out the legal position in due course.
Compliance with international obligations, including the decisions of supranational courts, is also an issue in the context of Government proposals to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a Bill of Rights that would decouple the UK courts' function of protecting Convention rights from the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Writing on Conservative Home last week, the former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, argued that "proposals that would enable the UK Parliament to disregard European Court rulings and define Convention rights as something other than the Court, as ultimate arbiter, itself determines, sends entirely the wrong message about the UK's support for and commitment to international law." Today, Conservative Home carries an interview with the Attorney General, Suella Braverman QC MP, in which she expresses her enthusiastic support for the Human Rights Act reforms, and rejects reports that the Government engaged in problematic "opinion shopping" when it obtained legal advice supporting its plans to legislate contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Bingham Centre is preparing to examine any legislative measures that are published in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol as well as any more detailed explanations of their compliance with the UK's obligations under international law.
In this week's Update, we bring you news of a presentation on public legal education, an internal seminar on equality in employment, and the latest updates from the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, which is led by the Bingham Centre.
You can read the whole Weekly Update here.