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Suspending UK Parliament Is a Danger to Human Rights

Government Should Let Parliamentarians Have Their Say on a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit

The EU and Union flags flying outside Parliament in Westminster, London. September 5, 2017. © 2017 Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Parliament shuttered for five weeks. Threats by senior ministers to ignore the rule of law. And a government seemingly determined to leave the European Union on October 31 without any deal in place, bringing with it disastrous consequences for the rights of people in the UK and beyond.

It’s hard to overstate the dangers the UK faces at present. Three issues stand out.

First, the government’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks. Suspensions for a few days happen most years, but it is reckless to suspend parliament when the country faces such a grave situation. And to do so merely because Parliament is seeking to hold Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to account over the dangers of no-deal Brexit shows contempt for the checks and balances necessary to protect rights.

Second, statements by not one but two Cabinet ministers, including a former justice minister, that if parliament succeeds in passing a law to avoid a no-deal exit from the EU, the government may refuse to abide by the law. The government has also refused to rule out asking the Queen to withhold the formal approval necessary for it to become law. When a government refuses to respect correctly adopted laws by the legislature, the rule of law is under threat.

Third, despite mounting evidence of the deep harm that a no-deal Brexit will cause to people’s human rights in the UK – including disruptions to food and medicine, possible civil unrest, and deepening uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries – the government seems determined to see no-deal Brexit happen on October 31, no matter the cost.

There is still time to avoid no-deal Brexit. But not much. If legal challenges to avert suspension fail, parliament could be suspended as early as September 9.

So this week is crucial if the UK is to reverse course on the government’s deeply worrying attempts to bypass rule of law and parliamentary scrutiny in its pursuit of no-deal Brexit.

The primary task for any government is to protect the rights of every person inside its borders. If it fails to do so, the parliament must be free to do its duty to step in.

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