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The State of Play

As things stand, Britain is due to exit the European Union without a deal on 31 October 2019. Boris Johnson has spoken about his desire to reach an agreement with the European Union but fundamental disagreements over the backstop, as well as the fact that any agreement is unlikely to garner a majority of support in parliament means that no-deal remains the most likely scenario.

How will Brexit affect Human Rights?

26 June 2018, The EU Withdrawal Act became law legislating for almost all EU laws to be incorporated into domestic laws. However, this decidedly did not encapsulate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Charter was key to supporting our domestic rights and the framework in which they are enshrined. UK ministers will have the powers to amend primary legislation without recourse to full parliamentary scrutiny under a new Repeal Bill. Fundamental laws like the Modern Slavery Act, the Equality Act, the Data protection Act, protection of the rights of the child, fair trial rights, refugee rights and academic freedom are all at risk.

The loss of the Charter is a blow to human rights as it provides more powerful mechanisms for protecting rights available elsewhere in UK law (for example in the Human Rights Act 1998). The Charter is also a ‘living instrument’ which means it provides greater flexibility to create new rights and can reflect societal change to better interpret present day conditions.

The absence of the Charter also creates a gap in substantive rights as it includes rights that do not have direct equivalents in other UK human rights laws, for example in the right to the protection of personal data.

There are many civil society groups engaged in the fight to ensure that all the protections we have in place today are not diluted when we leave the EU. The UK needs a robust Charter of Fundamental Rights and non discrimination laws that are transparent and cannot be tampered with by ministers.

What are the main areas of concern

Free Movement: One of the big areas of debate during the referendum was freedom of movement. The vote to leave will almost certainly mean that this right will be restricted under any deal. However, with more than a million British people living across Europe this brings up serious questions about their status post Brexit. While both Britain and the European Union have signified a willingness to cooperate on this issue, progress has been slow and a ‘no-deal’ outcome could have drastic implications on individuals rights.

Human Rights Law: The decision to not encapsulate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is worrying. It is important to play close attention to changes in legislation going forwards as certain senior politicians have now been grumbling about the need to leave the Human Rights Convention for a full Brexit. Couple this with a desire from some to repeal the Human Rights Act and our enshrined rights are looking a little thin.

Security: There is no doubt that security across Europe benefits from information sharing and cooperation between countries. It is a human right for us to expect to be reasonably protected from harm and we need to ensure that this right is not dampened after Brexit. Despite this being of mutual benefit to the EU bloc and the UK, it has seemingly been a contentious issue in negotiations. A no-deal Brexit will see a return of Interpol alerts and the reliance on the 1957 European convention on extradition, under which it could take years to return a suspect, instead of the current six weeks with a European arrest warrant. We will also lose access to the Schengen Information System II database which currently gives the UK fast access to intelligence and data

Data: We’re living in the world of big data. Companies know more and more about us than ever before. It is generally accepted that this data can be used to undermine democracy and our rights in the wrong hands. Most of our current laws on data protection are encapsulated within the EU charter or other forms of EU legislation. We have expressed a commitment to uphold the GDPR legislation enforced through EU law on our departure. However, this is a growing issue and will require continual updating to our own laws to keep our rights protected.

Latest News

Bill aimed at preventing no-deal works its way through the Houses: The bill introduced to prevent the government being able to withdraw Britain from the EU without a deal was passed its third reading in the House of Commons 327 to 299 on September 4. The bill now has to go through the House of Lords which has already signalled its intention to push through the bill. It is expected to be returned to the lower house by 5pm on Friday, September 6 to be voted on the following Monday.

Boris suffers election vote defeat: Following the decision of MPs to move forward in attempts to block no-deal, the Prime Minister called a vote for an early election (now requiring two-thirds support- 434 votes – in the Commons under the fixed-term parliament act). Johnson was heavily defeated 298 to 56 with critics suggesting that an election before the bill preventing no-deal has gained Royal Assent would give the Prime Minister scope to force through a no-deal exit.

Free movement to end on ‘exit day’: New home secretary Priti Patel has announced that EU freedom of movement will end immediately in the case of no-deal. This has been widely condemned by politicians and rights groups alike and had been dismissed by her predecessor, Sajid Javid, as it was “not practical” to end without a transition period.

Family reunification: The Home Office is planning to end the current system of family reunification for asylum-seeker children if the UK leaves the EU with no-deal. This means that asylum-seeking children looking to be reunited with family in the UK will be unable to come into the country, leaving many children vulnerable and stranded on the streets in mainland Europe.

Going forward

IOHR are currently in the process of monitoring the impact of a no deal Brexit on human rights. We hope that this can provide a starting place for strengthening individual rights in the UK and will cover issues as far reaching as data to the environment.

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