UNISON is backing an amendment to the controversial EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which seeks to preserve the rights enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement after the UK exits the EU.
The union’s backing for the amendment, which will be tabled by Labour’s shadow Brexit team during the committee stage of the bill in the House of Commons, comes after the Brexit negotiations stalled over proposals for the future of the Irish border.
UNISON Northern Ireland regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: “While it has been stated by all parties to the EU exit negotiations that nothing should be done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, the UK government needs to do much more to suggest that it is genuinely committed to upholding the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
“This bill as drafted contains no provision to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland from the negative effects of an EU exit. And that is unacceptable.”
The peace process as a whole was conducted with both the UK and Ireland sharing membership of the EU. An assumption of continued membership permeates the Good Friday Agreement and forms part of the legislation that established devolution in Northern Ireland.
The agreement includes a principle of equivalence between human rights protections in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Due to an EU exit this principle is now at serious risk.
As the Republic of Ireland will remain subject to EU law, workers’ rights will undoubtedly develop over time in response to changes in Brussels legislation. In contrast, if Northern Ireland is outside the EU and is not subject to EU law, rights for workers there will not develop in the same way.
UNISON also believes that the bill undermines the Good Friday Agreement by interfering with the devolved functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Ms McKeown added: “While we are currently without a government in Northern Ireland, there can be no power grab from Westminster into areas that were already devolved, like workers’ rights and equality protections.
“Instead this bill must ensure that a future devolved government can take the steps needed to continue to protect and advance rights and equality, as the Good Friday Agreement requires.”