The need to focus on Brexit may have led Britain’s Conservative government to shelve its problematic plans to scrap domestic human rights law, in force since 2000, and leave the European Court of Human Rights (which is not part of the European Union). But as a new explainer from Human Rights Watch shows, the government is pursuing Brexit in ways that put human rights at risk.
Some of the rights enjoyed by people in the UK, including workplace protections, privacy, and safeguards against discrimination, are the result of EU membership. The government has given assurances that rights will not be diminished as a result of Brexit.
However, in the EU Withdrawal Bill currently before parliament, aimed at moving EU rules to domestic law after Brexit, the government has singled out the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as the only piece of EU law that will not be incorporated. And it has done so without saying how those rights will be maintained, a move that members of parliament from both main parties have vowed to oppose.
The government has also refused to guarantee that it will not remove or restrict some rights under the worryingly broad executive powers it would be granted under the bill. So it’s little wonder that leading UK human rights organizations are pushing for a “people’s amendment” to protect our rights.
One group particularly concerned about having their rights taken away are the estimated 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. While the UK government has made the right noises, it has missed repeated opportunities to create legal certainty for Europeans living here, despite a rash of hate crimes after the Brexit vote and recent reports of discrimination in employment and housing.
Unless Brexit is grounded in our values and guided by the compass of human rights, we may find that our rights have been hollowed out when we finally leave the European Union.