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Brexit upheaval will pose threat to the peace process, new report warns

By Mark Bain

Brexit will threaten the peace process, increase division in Northern Ireland and hamper relations with the Republic, a new study has warned.

The study by BrexitLawNI - researchers from Queen's University Belfast, Ulster University and Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) - claims that Britain leaving the EU will also weaken human rights and equality protections.

Project leader Professor Colin Harvey from the School of Law at QUB said: "This is a profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. 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."

For 18 months, the BrexitLawNI team conducted interviews, consultations and town hall meetings to explore the possible impact of Brexit.

The research indicated widespread anxiety about the long-term impact of Brexit on relationships on the island.

"We urgently need a bespoke solution for this region that will minimise the negative impact of Brexit and provide a positive way forward," he said. "It remains clear that Northern Ireland will require a special arrangement if the problems we identify are to be credibly addressed."

The study also found that Brexit has had a political impact across the island of Ireland in 'mainstreaming' discussions on Irish reunification.

Professor Rory O'Connell, of the Transitional Justice Institute at UU, said: "The 1998 Agreement found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the border, embedding these in a rights-respecting framework. Brexit risks unpicking these carefully, painfully-worked out solutions"

Brian Gormally, CAJ director added: "There is a real danger that Brexit could re-ignite conflict here. 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 come together in defence of Brexit and the border.

"The last thing we need is a new bone of contention."

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