Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside 10 Downing Street, London, July 24, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Something fundamental has shifted on Brexit. And the consequences for human rights could be disastrous.

The government of former Prime Minister Theresa May recognised that leaving the European Union without a deal was something to be avoided. But her successor’s government seems almost determined to make it happen. 

Imposing impossible conditions to resume talks with the EU. Announcing a £100 million advertising campaign to “inform” people about no-deal. The rhetoric of war. All this suggests a government willing to embrace no-deal, not avoid it.

What is missing is any recognition that no-deal threatens the human rights of people living in the UK.

Start with food and medicine. The government has a duty to secure people’s rights to health and adequate food. Yet it’s apparently pursuing a policy that could disrupt medicine and fresh food imports.

The government has a duty to protect people from violence. Brexit has exposed dangerous fault lines in UK politics and society, with the murder of parliamentarian Jo Cox and a rash of hate crimes around the 2016 vote. No-deal could exacerbate this. Police have warned of a risk of civil unrest, including in Northern Ireland, and a police watchdog has asked officers to prepare for a fresh spike in hate crimes.

The government says it will protect the residence and related rights of EU citizens in the UK. But the picture for UK citizens in other EU countries remain patchy, determined by individual EU states, rather than protected by the EU treaty, as would be the case in the event of a deal.

No-deal Brexit would not immediately sweep away workers’ protections or discrimination and privacy rights in the UK that derive from EU law. Those would stay protected by UK law until the government and parliament removed them. But the previous government failed to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in domestic law, so these rights could be watered down in the future.  

Given the ideological hostility to human rights from some senior Cabinet members and advisors to Boris Johnson, people are right to fear that no-deal Brexit could see their EU-related rights go up in smoke.

If the British government won’t stand up for human rights during Brexit, parliament should step in. Before it’s too late.