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UK Elections Are About More Than Brexit

Voters Deserve Election Debate That Examines Wider Human Rights Concerns

Union Jack flags fluttering outside Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, October 1, 2019. © 2019 Steve Taylor/SOPA Images/Sipa via AP Images

On December 12, the United Kingdom heads for its third general election since 2015.

It comes at the end of years of political chaos in the country: Parliament suspended by the government only to be reopened after a ruling by the Supreme Court; a rebel alliance of parliamentarians from the ruling and opposition parties banding together to force the government to seek an extension to the UK’s EU membership; the government losing its working majority, and then expelling more than 20 of its own representatives; deep divisions within political parties; and polarisation in the country. All linked to the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Whoever wins the election has the chance to shape the UK’s course on Brexit, with some describing it as the most important vote “in a generation.”

But while the election will shape Brexit in ways that affects people’s rights, there are many other domestic human rights challenges facing the UK too. In addition, with so many conflicts and challenges in the wider world at present, the need for principled UK leadership on human rights issues overseas is greater than ever.

While manifestos are still being finalized, Human Rights Watch has written to political parties asking them eight questions about their views on key human rights issues.

These cover some of the key challenges, risks, and opportunities facing the UK: the Human Rights Act (the domestic law that protects people’s rights); the human rights implications of Brexit; climate change and the right to protestfood banks and the right to food; UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere; standing up for human rights defenders around the world; human rights and trade policy; and ensuring justice for war crimes and torture, including when British forces are implicated.

Given its huge implications for politics, the economy, society, and human rights, it is appropriate that Brexit is a central part of the election. But Brexit is neither the cause of nor the solution to every issue facing the UK. Voters in the UK deserve to hear politicians describe how they will tackle the human rights challenges of the future.

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