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Brexit will harm peace process and cause more division, academics warn

It is claimed any hard Irish border caused by Brexit could inflame tensions (David Young/PA) Photo: PA Archive/PA Images

Brexit will cause more division in Northern Ireland and hamper relations with the Republic of Ireland, a new study has warned.

The research by the Queen’s University, Belfast, Ulster University, and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) contends the UK’s departure from the EU will have detrimental consequences for the peace process and also weaken human rights and equality protections.

BrexitLawNI is led by Professor Colin Harvey from the School of Law at Queen’s.

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He described Brexit as a “profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland”.

He added: “Brexit will threaten the peace process and weaken protections for human rights and equality.

“It risks disrupting North-South co-operation, increasing racist immigration enforcement and dividing British and Irish citizens.

“It could also reduce international oversight of human rights and introduce a new focus for conflict between divided communities.

“Many of these matters have simply been neglected in the discussions thus far, and that must change.”

The report comes following 18 months of research involving interviews, consultations and town hall-style events.

Researchers also met with politicians and officials in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels as well as with business representatives, trade unions and community activists.

The academics say they detect “widespread anxiety” about the long-term impact of Brexit across Ireland.

They have called for a “bespoke solution for this region”.

Recommendations from the study include that Northern Ireland remains within the customs union and single market.

It also warns against a hard border, arguing that would “further undermine political relations” and could become a target for dissident republicans.

Brexit

Professor Rory O’Connell, director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, warned Brexit risks unpicking the Good Friday Agreement.

“The 1998 Agreement found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the border, embedding these in a rights-respecting framework,” he said.

“Brexit risks unpicking these carefully, painfully-worked out solutions.

“These reports identify recommendations that, going forward, maintain the centrality of rights and equality.”

Brian Gormally, director of the CAJ, said Brexit could even “reignite the conflict”.

He added: “As the leaving process lurches ever nearer to a ‘hard’ or ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there is a risk of nationalists becoming more and more disillusioned at the disregarding of the will of the majority here, while unionists coalesce in defence of Brexit and the border.

“The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people. We need to stop, take stock and together work out solutions for this region.”