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Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves from the steps outside 10 Downing Street, London, on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. © 2019 Frank Augstein/AP Photo

(London) – Boris Johnson should ensure that his new government maintains a focus on human rights as it sets out its new agenda, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the new British prime minister.

“In responding to the United Kingdom’s deep political, economic, and constitutional challenges, it’s important that the government doesn’t downgrade the human rights on which everyone in the country depends,” said Benjamin Ward, the acting UK director at Human Rights Watch. “The commitment to maintain rights needs to begin with the new prime minister himself.”

Human Rights Watch identified five priority areas for the new prime minister where rights are at risk:
  • Protecting human rights in the context of Brexit, in particular by avoiding the risks to rights arising from no-deal Brexit and ensuring that rights derived from EU law are maintained after Brexit.
  • Ensuring that children and families in the UK have adequate food at a time when more people are turning to food banks to meet their basic needs, including by addressing the negative impacts of Universal Credit and other welfare changes on children and families.
  • Protecting women and girls from violence, through full legal protections for survivors of domestic violence in the UK and continued international leadership on sexual violence in conflict.
  • Prioritising rights in UK foreign and trade policy, including by making sure that human rights clauses are maintained in new and continuing trade deals, and speaking out on behalf of human rights defenders and journalists jailed for doing their peaceful work.
  • Halting UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, given the clear evidence of repeated violations by the Saudi-led coalition during the war in Yemen.

As foreign secretary in 2016, Johnson spoke of his ambitions for Global Britain after Brexit, which he said would be “more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before.” He also talked of the need to “defend and preserve the best of the rules-based international order.”

“If Johnson is genuine about his vision of the UK’s post-Brexit role in the world, his government will need to maintain human rights protections at home and abroad,” Ward said.

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