I propose to take Questions Nos. 326 to 328, inclusive, together.
Under Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the UK has committed to ensure no diminution of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
This includes a commitment to no diminution in rights in the area of protection against discrimination, and Annex 1 of the Protocol lists the EU Directives that have been adopted by the European Union in this area. These Directives will continue to be applied, and will be updated as necessary, in Northern Ireland after the transition period. In August, the UK Government published an explainer document which outlined its commitment “to ensuring that, if the EU decides to amend or replace the substantive rights in those directives to improve the minimum levels of protection available, the corresponding substantive rights protections in Northern Ireland will also develop to take account of this”.
The Protocol will apply at the end of the transition period, regardless of the outcome of negotiations between the EU and the UK on a future relationship. What is required under the Protocol is already agreed.
The Government is aware that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, as well as a number of civil society organisations, have expressed significant concerns in relation to the Internal Market Bill and the risk that it will undermine the Good Friday Agreement commitment to ensure incorporation of the ECHR, and risk diminishing the commitment to ensure there is no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity as the UK leaves the EU.
The Government takes these concerns very seriously and they underline why it is so important that the Protocol, which was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, be fully implemented. The Government has been consistently clear that full, effective and timely implementation of the Protocol is of vital importance.
Ireland has participated in all meetings to date of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Specialised Committee on the Implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. In those meetings, as well as in a number of bilateral engagements with the UK at political level, Ireland has emphasised the importance of the effective implementation of all aspects of the Protocol. We have also underlined to the British Government our grave concerns on the provisions of the Internal Market Bill, including at the very highest political level. Together with our EU partners, we will continue to monitor and engage on developments on this issue very closely.