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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.
 
 

Protecting rights after Brexit

 


Protection of Equality and Human Rights After Brexit

What is the UK Government’s commitment to equality and human rights after Brexit?


Prior to the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) in January 2020, the UK Government committed to ensuring that certain equality and human rights in Northern Ireland would continue to be upheld after Brexit.

This commitment was set out in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement reached with the EU.



 

•    Commitment not to reduce certain equality and human rights after Brexit

In particular, under Article 2 of the Protocol, the UK Government committed to ensuring that the protections currently in place in Northern Ireland for the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity provisions set out in the chapter of the same name in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement will not be not reduced as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

This means, for example, that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive cannot act in a way that would reduce certain equality and human rights in Northern Ireland, as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

 

 

•    Commitment to keep pace with certain equality rights after Brexit

The UK Government has also committed to ensuring that some of Northern Ireland’s equality laws will keep pace with any future changes to certain EU equality laws.

This means that if the EU amends or updates the EU equality laws set out in Annex 1 to the Protocol, after 1 January 2021, Northern Ireland equality laws will keep pace with those changes.  This is designed to ensure that certain Northern Ireland equality laws will not fall behind minimum EU standards of protection in anti-discrimination.

What EU equality laws are in Annex 1 to the Protocol?

All of the EU equality Directives listed in Annex 1 to the Protocol have been brought into force in Northern Ireland law and are designed to promote equal treatment and tackle discrimination on the following protected grounds:
 
  • Gender
  • Racial or Ethnic Origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation


Specifically, the six EU equality Directives in Annex 1 are:

 

 

Why was this commitment made?

This is an important commitment as there are concerns that equality and human rights may be reduced when the UK is no longer part of the EU. EU law has played an important role in improving equality protections in Northern Ireland.

The commitment is also a recognition of the importance and centrality of rights and equality protections in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and that this Agreement has underpinned the peace process here.
 

Who is covered by this commitment?

This commitment applies to Northern Ireland. Everyone who is protected by Northern Ireland law is covered by this commitment irrespective of whether the law has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament.
 

What rights are covered by the commitment?

The commitment applies to the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity provisions set out in the chapter of the same name in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. These provisions include, but may not be limited to:
 
  • The right of free political thought;
  • The right to freedom and expression of religion;
  • The right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
  • The right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
  • The right to freely choose one’s place of residence;
  • The right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;
  • The right to freedom from sectarian harassment;
  • The right of women to full and equal political participation;
  • The right of victims to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society;
  • Respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity; and
  • The need to ensure that symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.
 

What would amount to a breach of the commitment?

In order to show that there has been a breach of the commitment and a reduction of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity provisions, there must be evidence that:
 
  • the right, safeguard or equality of opportunity provision or protection is covered by the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement;
  • it was protected under Northern Ireland law on, or before, the end of the Brexit transition period, namely 31 December 2020; and
  • the reduction in rights occurred as a result of Brexit.

Some of the rights in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, set out above, are underpinned by protections against discrimination in EU law.

These EU equality laws, set out in Annex 1 to the Protocol, provide minimum standards of protection against discrimination. These minimum standards are already set out in Northern Ireland’s equality laws; for example, through certain changes to Northern Ireland’s equality laws on the grounds of sex, race, age, disability and fair employment. In some instances, Northern Ireland equality laws have exceeded these minimum EU standards.
In addition to these EU equality laws, set out in Annex 1, there are other EU laws that are relevant to the rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity provisions in the chapter of the same name in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, as set out above.

These include, but are not limited to, EU Directives such as the Parental Leave Directive (pdf), Victims’ Directive (pdf) and Pregnant Workers’ Directive (pdf), as well as specific measures aimed at protecting the rights of disabled people.

A failure by the UK Government to ensure that Northern Ireland equality laws keep pace with any changes that the EU makes after 1 January 2021 to update or replace certain EU equality laws, as set out in Annex 1 to the Protocol, would also be a breach of the commitment.
 

Is this commitment binding?

This commitment is binding on the UK Government and Parliament, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly as a matter of international law.

All the provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, including the UK Government’s commitments on equality and human rights under Article 2 of the Protocol, are now contained in UK law.
 

What is the role of the Equality Commission?

To ensure that the UK Government meets this commitment, a ‘dedicated mechanism’ has been created comprising of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

From 1 January 2021 the Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission have new duties and powers to monitor, supervise, advise, enforce, and report on this commitment.

The Commissions will also work with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to provide oversight of equalities and rights that have an Island of Ireland dimension.

Further, the Commissions and the Joint Committee of NI Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission can directly raise matters of relevance to how the commitment is being implemented with the Specialised Committee on the Protocol. This Specialised Committee is made up of representatives from both the UK and EU and it oversees the implementation and application of the Protocol.
 

What are the new powers and duties of the Equality Commission?

Both the Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission, from 1 January 2021, have new duties and powers to monitor, supervise, advise, enforce, and report on this commitment. 

These duties and powers are set out in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, amending the Northern Ireland Act 1998

In particular, the Commissions’ new powers and duties include:

 
  • Monitoring how the commitment is implemented;
  • Reporting on its implementation to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and The Executive Office;
  • Advising the Secretary of State and the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly of legislative and other measures that must be taken to implement the commitment;
  • Advising the Northern Ireland Assembly (or a committee of the Assembly) whether a Bill is compatible with the commitment;
  • Promoting understanding and awareness of how important the commitment is;
  • Powers to bring, or intervene in, legal proceedings in respect of an alleged breach (or potential future breach) of the commitment; and
  • Powers to assist individuals in relevant legal proceedings.

Further to these duties and powers, the Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission will provide regular reports to the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive and identify any changes to the rights and equalities landscape.

The Commissions can exercise these powers and fulfil these duties jointly or separately.
 

Can individuals bring complaints if there is a breach of the commitment?

Yes, from 1 January 2021 individuals can bring legal action, by way of judicial review, to challenge the compatibility of the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly actions or legislation with this commitment.

The Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission have the power to:
 
  • provide advice and assistance, and support individuals to bring legal complaints, where they believe that this commitment has been breached, where appropriate; and
  • bring legal challenges or intervene in legal cases, where they believe that this commitment has been breached, where appropriate.

As set out above, in order to show that a reduction of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity has taken place, it will be necessary to show that:
 
  • the right, safeguard or equality of opportunity provision or protection is covered by the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement;
  • it was protected under Northern Ireland law on, or before, the end of the Brexit transition period, namely 31 December 2020; and
  • the reduction in rights occurred as a result of Brexit.

The Commissions can bring legal action separately or jointly. See how to make a complaint
 

What are the North/South oversight arrangements?

The Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission are working with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) to oversee and report on rights and equalities issues falling within the scope of the commitment that have an island of Ireland dimension.
 
All three Commissions can report separately to the UK Government and Ireland Government on any issues with an island of Ireland rights equalities and dimension.

The three Commissions have agreed a Memorandum of Understanding (pdf, 2021) in relation to this oversight role.
 
 

Useful information

 


The 'Your Rights' publication is also available in the following languages:

 


Further information

 



Contact us
For general information about the Equality Commission’s 'Dedicated Mechanism Unit'  email: DMU@equalityni.org or Tel: 028 90500600. For advice enquiries on making a complaint, speak to one of our Dedicated Mechanism Unit advisors, Tel: 028 90500600, Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm.


NI Human Rights Commission
For further information on NI Human Rights Commission and its role as part of the dedicated mechanism, you can also contact the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, email: info@nihrc.org or Tel: 028 90243987, website: 
www.nihrc.org/human-rights-after-brexit


Independent Monitoring Authority
Further information on the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements and its work to protect on citizens’ rights protections under the Withdrawal Agreement, after 1 January 2021, is available on their website: www.ima-citizensrights.org.uk.




 
Delivering equality
 


Making a complaint - equality and human rights after Brexit


We are here to help protect your equality and human rights after Brexit - No Matter What.  

With the Windsor Framework, the UK Government has committed to ensuring that certain equality and human rights in Northern Ireland would continue after Brexit.   

We may be able to help with legal representation or advice if you think there has been a breach of the UK Governments commitment to the Windsor Framework.

Can I challenge a breach of the commitment to safeguard our rights?

Yes. Everyone has the right to bring legal action before the courts if they think there has been a breach of the UK Government’s commitment in the Windsor Framework.

For example, if you think that the NI Assembly, or the NI Executive, has acted in a way that goes against the UK Government’s commitment, you can challenge those actions in the courts.

This involves taking a form of legal action called ‘Judicial Review’.

Everyone living in Northern Ireland is covered by this commitment irrespective of whether the law has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament.
 

How do I show that the commitment has been breached?

To show that there has been a breach of the commitment and a reduction of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity provisions, there must be evidence that:

 

  • the right, safeguard or equality of opportunity provision or protection must be covered in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement
  • it was protected under Northern Ireland law on, or before, the end of the Brexit transition period, namely 31 December 2020
  • the reduction in rights occurred because of Brexit.

Only the Courts decide if a breach of the UK Government’s commitment has occurred, and the courts are separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
 

Can the Equality Commission assist me in bringing or taking legal action?

Yes, you can bring legal action, by way of judicial review, to challenge the compatibility of the Northern Ireland Executive or NI Assembly actions or legislation with this commitment.

The Equality Commission can help if you think that this commitment has been breached.

Where appropriate we may be able to provide advice assistance and support to make a legal complaint, bring legal challenges or intervene in legal cases.

The NI Human Rights Commission has similar enforcement powers.
 

Are there time limits for making a complaint?

Yes. There are strict time limits for lodging judicial review proceedings with a court.

A judicial review case for an alleged breach of Article 2 must be brought before the Court within 3 months of the decision or action being complained of taking place.

Please note that contacting the Equality Commission or making an application for assistance to the Equality Commission does not mean you are issuing legal proceedings.

Read our legal advice and assistance policy - Policy for the provision of legal advice and assistance for complaints relating to Article 2(1) of the Ireland/NI Protocol (pdf)
 
 


Contact us

You can contact the Equality Commissions ‘Rights After Brexit’ enquiries team by: 

Email: DMU@equalityni.org

Tel: 028 9050 0600 (Monday - Friday, 10am - 4pm)

If you require an interpreter, please let us know.

You can also contact the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission by email: 
info@nihrc.org or telephone on 02890 243987, or visit www.nihrc.org/brexit



Further information

 



 
Protecting rights after Brexit
 

Policy and Research publications

Annual Report by three Commissions: Equality and Human Rights after Brexit (Oct 2022 – Sept 2023)

This is the second activity report on the joint work by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to ensure the implementation of Article 2 of the Windsor Framework from an island of Ireland perspective. The report covers October 2022 to September 2023.
 
 

Public Awareness Survey - equality and human rights protections in NI after Brexit

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland commissioned a short survey, as part of its role with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of Protocol Article 2 and the role of the dedicated mechanism.

The aim of the survey, which took place between 19 and 22 March 2023, was to capture a snapshot of the public’s awareness and understanding of Article 2 of the Windsor Framework and the role of the dedicated mechanism, and attitudes to equality and human rights protections in Northern Ireland post Brexit.

 
 

Annual Report 2022-23: Implementation of Protocol Article 2

Our Annual Report 2022-23 sets out the work on advising and holding the UK Government to account on the Implementation of its no diminution commitment in Article 2 of the Windsor Framework over the last year.

Speaking about the report, Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and Alyson Kilpatrick, Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said:

“The UK Government made important commitments to protect equality and human rights post Brexit.  This report highlights our advice to Government on the significant legislative developments that have taken place over the last year, including The Windsor Political Declaration, the Retained EU Law Bill, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, the Illegal Migration Bill and the potential reform of the Human Rights Act.  We remain concerned about the impact of these developments on equality and human rights in Northern Ireland."

Download the report
 
 

Briefing papers and submissions

 

Research Report: Impact of Brexit on Minority Ethnic and Migrant People in Northern Ireland

New research, commissioned by the Equality Commission from the independent think tank Pivotal, looks at the actual, perceived, and potential socioeconomic impacts of Brexit on minority ethnic and migrant people in Northern Ireland.

The research entitled Impact of Brexit on Minority Ethnic and Migrant People in Northern Ireland (pdf, May 2023) has found that life in Northern Ireland is much more difficult for many minority ethnic and migrant people following Brexit. Read the press release
 

Policy Recommendations: Impact of Brexit on the divergence of rights and best practice on the Island of Ireland

The policy recommendations of the three Commissions relate to the impact of Brexit on the divergence of rights and equalities that have an island of Ireland dimension. Whilst some of these recommendations are made jointly by all three Commissions, most recommendations are made solely by the Equality Commission NI and NI Human Rights Commission.
 
The recommendations have been informed by the findings of the research report below.
 

Research Report: Impact of Brexit on the divergence of rights and best practice on the Island of Ireland

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have published a joint research report: European Union Developments in Equality and Human Rights: The Impact of Brexit on the Divergence of Rights and Best Practice on the Island of Ireland (pdf, Dec 2022)

The aim of this research paper is to analyse the impact, and or potential impact, of Brexit as regards the divergence of equality and human rights protections and European Union best practice on the island of Ireland. Such divergence between Ireland and NI has the potential to have implications for Protocol Article 2

This research highlights EU developments in EU law, Court of Justice EU case law, policy and best practice that relate to equality and human rights in Northern Ireland, post Brexit and that have the potential to result in divergence of rights on the island of Ireland.
 

Annual Joint report on the implementation of Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol (Jan 21 - Sept 22)

This is the first Annual Joint Report, in respect of Protocol Article 2, from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, their first since they took over their new roles in respect of Protocol Article 2.
 
The report outlines the joint work of the Commissions in providing oversight of, and reporting on, rights and equalities issues with an island of Ireland dimension falling within the scope of Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol to the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (‘Protocol Article 2’).

 
 

Working Paper: The Scope of Article 2(1) of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol

The Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission joint Working Paper sets out their views on the scope of equality and human rights protected under the Ireland/ Northern Ireland Protocol. This important paper focuses on the extent of the UK Government’s commitment, under Article 2 of the Protocol, to protect certain equality and human rights after Brexit. The Working Paper provides an informed position on how the non-diminution commitment will work in practice and on the types of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity protections that could potentially fall under the Article 2 commitment.
 
 

Annual Report 2021-22: Implementation of Protocol Article 2

This is our first annual report focusing on the implementation of Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. The report, which was laid before Parliament on 1 December 2022, highlights the changes made to the rights and equality landscape since Brexit and records our key policy recommendations, from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2022, as well as concerns raised with the Government. Download our Annual Report (pdf, July 2022)

The Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have obligations, as part of their new roles and responsibilities as the dedicated mechanism, to advise, monitor and hold the UK Government to account on its important commitment to ‘no diminution’ of certain equality and human rights as outlined in Protocol Article 2.
 

EU Funding: Impact of Brexit on Section 75 Equality Groups in NI

This research report considered the potential impact of loss of EU funding on Section 75 equality groups in Northern Ireland and set out recommendations for future funding, including in the context of the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Download the pdf report
 
Our key policy recommendations relate to the proposals outlined by the UK Government on replacement European Union (EU) funding, including the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) and have been informed by the findings of the research report which sought the views of a range of stakeholders including those who had received EU funding for programmes that promoted equality of opportunity and good relations in Northern Ireland. Read our policy recommendations
 

Legislative Scrutiny and the Dedicated Mechanism for monitoring Article 2 of the Ireland/NI

This report analyses current structures and identifies recommendations for reform of UK Parliament and NI Assembly mechanisms and processes so as to ensure that there can be effective scrutiny of the UK Government’s compliance with its commitment under Article 2(1) of the Protocol.

 

 

Consultation responses

 
 

 

 



Making a Complaint
Protecting Rights after Brexit
 

News and events


News, press releases and articles relating to our work protecting equality and human rights after Brexit.
 

survey

Equality and human rights protections in NI post Brexit
26 September 2023





 

Equality Commission

Annual report launched on the implementation of Article 2 of Windsor Framework
5 July 2023





Chief Commissioner Geraldine McGahey

Racism is a daily fact of life in NI
8 June 2023






Chief Commissioner Geraldine McGahey

Impact of Brexit: Research and policy recommendations launched
27 April 2023




 

 

Chief Commissioner Geraldine McGahey

Clarifying the Scope of Protocol Protections post Brexit
1 December 2022





 

Equality and rights on the island of Ireland after Brexit

Rights after Brexit - Joint Annual Report Jan 2021 - Sept 2022
29 November 2022





 

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of IHREC, Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission NI, Alyson Kilpatrick, Chief Commissioner for the NI Human Rights Commission

Human Rights and Equality Bodies address Oireachtas Members
21 September 2022






Geraldine McGahey and David Russel at launch of the Annual Report

Annual report: Implementation of Article 2 of the NI Protocol
5 July 2022





 

Map of Northern Ireland under a magnifying glass

Government urged to put equality at heart of future funding policies
6 June 2022





 

Geraldine McGahey, Alyson Kilpatrick, and Michael Finucane

Three Commissions meet minority ethnic groups and migrant people to discuss rights after Brexit
14 March 2022

View videos on YouTube



 

June Best with her assistance dog



Break down barriers, do not build new ones after Brexit
8 February 2022





 

Human Rights and Equality Commissioners meeting the Jewish community

Call to alleviate food shortages for Jewish community
16 December 2021






First joint meeting of Commissions following Brexit

First joint meeting of Commissions following Brexit
23 November 2021






EU Vice President meets Commissions in Belfast

EU Vice President meets Commissions in Belfast
9 September 2021






EU map

Submission to House of Lords inquiry into operation of Protocol
23 June 2021






Chief Commissioners Geraldine McGahey and Les Allamby at Stormont

Commissions update Assembly Committee on protections post Brexit
14 April 2021






New human rights and equality oversight roles begin

New human rights and equality oversight roles begin
4 January 2021






Equality and human rights protections post Brexit

Equality and human rights protections post Brexit
5 December 2020









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Making a Complaint
Protecting Rights after Brexit

 

 

 
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