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Brexit Withdrawal Bill Suffers Another Defeat


The British Government’s Brexit bill suffered a defeat in the House of Lords after peers voted to retain a crucial European Union (EU) human rights charter as part of British law.

A cross-party amendment to preserve the presence of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law was backed by a majority of 71 peers, with 316 voting in favour of the motion and 245 voting against it.

The amendment was orchestrated by Lord Pannick, and his cross-party alliance of Conservative John Gummer, Labour Lord Goldsmith and Liberal Democrat Lady Ludford. Lord Pannick criticised the Government’s efforts to remove the Charter as “unprincipled and unjustified.”

Paul Blomfield, currently Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, stated: “This is a welcome decision by the House of Lords. The future of human rights protections is not a party political issue. It is about the type of country we want to be and the values that we want to champion.”

Alternatively, Lord Keen of Elie spoke in the debate in the House of Lords and expressed his outrage at the desire to retain a “body of foreign law”.

Human rights groups in the UK have celebrated the result of the Lords’ vote.

Martha Spurrier, director of UK human rights charity Liberty, said: “This is a huge victory for human rights and common sense. The Lords have sent a clear message to the government: you can’t use Brexit to take away people’s rights.”

The defeat of the bill will now be considered by the House of Commons, where MPs have the opportunity to overturn the vote in the House of Lords. Ministers have expressed frustration over the demand to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights, claiming the insurance it offers will be enshrined in UK law elsewhere after Brexit takes place in March 2019.

However, human rights groups remain sceptical that the full protection offered by the Charter will be stipulated in UK law after March 2019.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrines a range of civil, political and social rights for EU citizens. These rights include the right to a private life, equality provisions, freedom of speech and equality provisions and employment rights governing the treatment of workers by employers. The Charter also protects the rights of children, the elderly and disabled people.

The Charter came into force in December 2009 after all EU Member States had signed the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. It is more wide-ranging than the European Convention on Human Rights, which is already embedded in UK law through the Human Rights Act (1998).

Whereas the Charter of Fundamental Rights was created by the EU and is interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Convention on Human Rights was drafted by the Council of Europe and is legally upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Government was defeated in a collection of other votes in the House of Lords, which could have provided ministers with the power to restrict when British citizens could utilise principles of EU law to challenge the government. Last week too, in opposition to the Government, peers voted in favour of potentially staying in the EU, Customs Union, and to safeguard protections for workers and consumers.

The protection of human rights in the process of Brexit is proving to be the catalyst for division in the UK’s current political environment.

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