Martina Anderson, MEP (GUE/NGL):
Brexit will have a detrimental impact on human rights
We could not have two different arrangements for Ireland when part of the island is in the EU and another part is out of the EU; the invisible border is one of the major accomplishments of the Peace Process
Maria Koleva, Brussels
14 March, 2018
Close-up: Martina Anderson is a Member of the European Parliament from Sinn Fein, elected from the north of Ireland, and a member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). She is also a member of the Bureau of the Group and sits on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. In parallel, she is a member of the Delegation for relations with Palestine and serves as substitute on the Regional Development and Constitutional Affairs Committees. Ms Anderson has been involved with the Irish republican struggle for over thirty years. In 2006, she was appointed to the role of Sinn Fein's Director of Unionist Engagement. In 2011, she became Junior Minister in the office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.- Ms Anderson, how will Brexit harm human rights standards for millions of people, as the report which was just published, and was commissioned by your group at the European Parliament, warns?- We published the report on 8 March in London. It is an independent legal opinion by barristers from Doughty Street Chambers, and commissioned by the GUE/NGL Group, that shows the terrific implications of Britain's withdrawal from the EU. Primarily, Brexit will have a detrimental impact on human rights. It will weaken the protection of fundamental rights across the UK for both UK citizens and EU citizens. It is quite clearly underlined in the report that we will have a lowering of rights and protection as a consequence of the British Government plan to scrap the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union after Brexit. British Prime Minister Theresa May claims that there is nothing in the Charter of Fundamental Rights that could not be found in the other laws. But that is wrong. The Charter has six chapters and contains 50 civil, political, social, economic and 'third generation' rights, which is for instance three times more than the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. So, people from the EU that live in Britain will not have protection under the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but those from the UK that live in the EU will have better protection of their rights. In the north of Ireland, we are looking at these implications for human rights protection for people and businesses with a deep concern.- What human rights arguments suggested by the barristers should be mandatorily included into the negotiating strategy?- The Charter of Fundamental Rights has direct effect, so for instance when the law is not compatible with the Convention of Human Rights, the Parliament should change it. However, when a law is not compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Charter rules immediately apply. For example, in the Charter of Fundamental Rights the right to marry is gender neutral, whereas in the European Convention of Human Rights it is specified that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is, in particular, just one of the number of rights that the Charter encompasses. So what we are saying is that the British Government should retain in the withdrawal agreement all the rights that EU citizens currently have, they should be able to exercise their rights in Britain, and indeed that the Charter of Fundamental Rights protects everyone that lives in Britain and also the people of the north of Ireland. I welcome the recommendation of the barristers that a solution must be found which recognises the special circumstances of the north of Ireland. We cannot allow our rights, including the rights contained in the Good Friday Agreement that was concluded in April 1998, to be undermined by Brexit.- How exactly could Brexit undermine the Good Friday Agreement?- Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement because it is an international agreement endorsed by both parts of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement put an end of the conflict in Ireland. The first strand of the agreement covers political arrangements within the north of Ireland. The second strand settles institutional relationships between the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the third covers British-Irish relationships, also embracing other devolved administrations within the islands of Britain and Ireland. The current report not only shows that the Tory Brexit agenda will undermine human rights, but that it also has the potential to damage the peace process in the north and the Good Friday Agreement. The most significant loss for UK citizens and residents in the UK will be the suspension of the application of the Charter and the UK's departure from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. UK citizens, resident in the EU and within the UK, are also expected to lose their wider citizenship rights, with the exception of citizens in the north of Ireland who also hold Irish citizenship. The respect for the terms of the agreement must be a priority.- In your view, what will be for example the consequences of eventual reinstating of a hard border on the island of Ireland?- People in Europe should not tolerate a hardening of the border between the two parts of Ireland. A hard border will have immediate and direct effect on those people who live in Ireland. In the north of Ireland, because of the Good Friday Agreement, people can identify themselves as British, Irish or both. There are over half a million people in the north of Ireland that have Irish passport, because they were born in Ireland and they live in Ireland, and therefore we cannot have a border in the middle of the island of Ireland. The invisible border on the island of Ireland is one of the major accomplishments of the Peace Process. And I welcome the fact that Donald Tusk said on 8 March that if in London someone assumes that the Brexit negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, he would respond: “Ireland first”. It also means that option three, under the joint commitments from December, will come into place, namely that the north of Ireland will stay in the customs union and the EU Single Market, and that the European Court of Justice will still apply.- The European Parliament voted its position on a possible framework for EU-UK future relations after Brexit. According to you, what closest possible relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom could be achieved?- We want the British Government to engage faithfully and truly in the negotiation process, as we have only 50 weeks left. What we need in the future relationship is mostly to embed human rights and equality at the heart. But we are primarily concerned about the Good Friday Agreement being protected in all its parts. We could not have two different arrangements for Ireland when part of Ireland is in the EU and another part is out of the EU. We cannot allow any diminution of rights as a result of Brexit, and the best way to ensure that is to secure special status for the north within the EU. Indeed, the people of the north of Ireland democratically expressed with their vote their will to stay in the EU.- Now in the UK there is a petition for a referendum that would take place prior to the April 2019 exit date. Do you believe such could attract support, and what will happen if that time 'thumbs down' against leave dominated, and that British people changed their mind about Brexit?- I need to acknowledge, which I do, that the people of England, Wales and other places voted to leave the EU, but the people of the north of Ireland voted to remain. It depends on whether these people will gather the required support. I don't think that the Conservative government, nor the Labour leadership, are interested in pursuing a second referendum. But if they do this, the European Council has already sent a signal to the British Government that if they change their mind and want to remain in the EU, Britain will be allowed to stay.- What in your opinion could be the main stumbling stone if there was “no deal” on 30 March 2019?- There is a real sense that the British Government are heading straight for a cliff edge over Brexit. It is already clear that Ireland and the question of the border, have become the biggest stumbling block in Brexit negotiations. The economy and wellbeing of people in the north of Ireland, their rights under the Good Friday Agreement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and their democratic rights as citizens of the EU, are all put in danger by the Tory government Brexit agenda. The Brexiteers in the Conservative British Government, and their allies in the DUP, are not looking for a negotiated agreement - they are recklessly heading for a hard Brexit that will cause unmitigated damage to Ireland as a result. On this question, it's important to remember that Britain has never left any country without damaging it. In leaving the EU with no deal, Britain will cause damage and havoc for Ireland - it will reinforce partition, hardening the border and wrecking the Good Friday Agreement. For the DUP and the hardline Brexiteers that's job done.