Strong message on rights after Brexit

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The European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights was “proclaimed” by the EU institutions more than 18 years ago but it did not become legally binding until the Lisbon treaty took effect in December 2009.

To the relief of many vulnerable and oppressed people this week, the House of Lords, voted by a majority of 71 to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, after the UK leaves the European Union. 

The Government had promised the Withdrawal Bill would be for the UK, just a “copy and paste exercise”.

In reality the Government reneged on its promises and assurances in this regard by backtracking and not including the Charter and other fundamental rights.

The Lords ensured in opposition to the Government breaking its promise and the risks to human rights and protections going forward, that the Charter and laws protecting our fundamental rights should be retained in UK law after Brexit.

The Lords furthermore voted by a majority of 57 to rights of action based on the general principles of EU law – including those on non-discrimination and equal treatment, after Brexit, too. This now means that if these rights are infringed by a domestic law here in the UK, a judge can strike it down.

The disapplication of the Charter in UK law would have meant losing the Charter’s principles and that mechanisms for protecting rights in the UK would have been weakened, leaving ineffective remedies for claims of discrimination in work, for example.

The Charter ensures that EU law upholds basic rights and can also be used to strike down any EU law that undermines these rights.

A wide range of EU laws will be transferred to UK law and they will become ‘retained legislation’.

After Brexit we will lose our protection around retained EU law, resulting in a lower level of protection for human rights and this vote militates against gaps arising in substantive rights, due to our not having direct equivalents in other UK Human Rights law, including a free-standing right to non-discrimination, as well as the protection of a child’s best interest and the right to human dignity.

The Charter is a living and evolving instrument, with the rights within it being reflective of social change, thus enabling new rights to be created and protected such as the ‘right to be forgotten’.

The House of Lords recognised in their majority that the scrapping of the Charter by the Government would have created unwanted and unnecessary confusion and would have increased expensive and time-draining litigation, as our Courts here in the UK would have been obliged to scramble round trying to establish to what extent the Charter continues to apply after Brexit.

All of these problems are now solved by keeping the Charter protections in UK law.

The need to protect Human Rights, even from Government breaches, at varying times, has been no more evident than in the case of the scandalous maltreatment of the Windrush generation and other Commonwealth people which we have been seeing of late.

The Lords sent out a strong message to the Government, telling them, that they cannot use Brexit to take away people’s rights in the UK.

Chrissy Meleady

Nursery Street, Sheffield, S3