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The UK Protests – “to defend our democracy”

Anti-proroguing protests have taken place across the UK seeing tens of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets on 31 August to express their concern over new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament. New protests are set to take place in more than 30 cities and towns across England and Wales this week.

Prorogation – the closing of parliament – in this case for 23 working days, means the prospect of a no-deal Brexit seems more certain than ever before. Critics view the length and timing of the suspension as controversial, because it will come only weeks before the Brexit deadline on 31 October.

The protests

On 31 August 2019 protests took place in more than 30 towns and cities across the UK, including Edinburgh, Belfast, Cambridge, Exeter, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. Protestors marched under the banner of ‘Stop the Coup’ chanting that they were demonstrating, “to defend our democracy!”

The Metropolitan Police said it made three arrests, but no further details were given about the arrests. But the Green Party said that London Assembly member Caroline Russell was among those arrested. The councilor was photographed being led away by police after allegedly blocking a road.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined protestors in Glasgow with a message for the Prime Minister:

“No way do you take us out without a deal. Demonstrations are taking place everywhere because people are angered and outraged about what is happening,” he added.

What is proroguing and why is it so controversial?

On 31 August Boris Johnson asked the Queen to suspend Parliament and she subsequently approved the Prime Ministers request. According to Parliament.uk, once parliament has been prorogued, any motions that have not been responded to, or Bills that have not obtained Royal Assent, will not progress any further.

Prorogation is the formal name for the end of a parliamentary session and is marked with a ceremony in the House of Lords. It usually involves an announcement and a Queen’s speech.

MP’s responded with outrage at the Prime Minister’s final decision. Labour deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted that the move was an,

“utterly scandalous affront to our democracy”.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon encouraged MP’s to block the plan, for if they did not,

“today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy”.

The Prime Minister defended his right to prorogue, stating that claims made by other members of parliament that suspending parliament is undemocratic are, “completely untrue”.

Catherine Haddon of think-tank the Institute for Government told the BBC that Johnson’s prorogation,

“does seem like a very obvious move to cut down the time available for anti-no-deal MPs to do something about it”

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said he would look into legal action should prorogation of parliament go ahead. He told BBC News:

“The Queen’s decision cannot be challenged in law but the prime minister’s advice to the Queen can, I believe, be challenged in law – and I for one would be prepared to seek judicial review to prevent Parliament being bypassed.”

What does this mean for human rights?

The outlook for human rights following a no-deal Brexit is looking bleaker than ever, with freedom of movement one of the areas that could face the worst restrictions. Some of the areas of concern for human rights groups are free movement, human rights laws, security and data 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: 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. 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: 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.

Free Movement: Brexit will almost certainly mean that freedom of movement 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 individual rights.

The restrictions on movement stand to be far worse for those already at a disadvantage, such as refugees and asylum seekers.

The end of reunification for asylum-seeking children

A Guardian report from 2 September revealed the Home Office’s preparations to end the current system of family reunification for asylum-seeking children, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The Home Office has informed the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and other NGOs that cases that are already open may be able to be processed. However, if the UK leaves the EU, the Dublin Regulation, which lets asylum-seeking children and adults transfer within the EU to join family members, will no longer apply to the UK. As a result, the Home Office would not be able to accept new applications after 1 November from asylum-seeking children hoping to be reunited with their families in the UK.

A spokesperson for UNHCR said,

“UNHCR urges the UK government and its European partners to work together to ensure that appropriate arrangements remain in place for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people.”

Efi Stathopoulou, the project coordinator at Refugee Legal Support in Athens, said,

“Children come here very afraid. Without the possibility of a safe way to reach the UK, these young people will simply vanish to try to cross the Channel at Calais on lorries or boats.”

Protests look set to continue across the UK, demonstrating further uncertainty around stability in the UK in the lead up to and after Brexit.

Watch: Thousands protest against Brexit in the UK on IOHRTV:

Watch: How will Brexit Affect Human Rights?

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