Brexit’s begun – and so has the fight to keep our rights

Posted by George Wilson on 29 March 2017

So Article 50 has been triggered – Brexit has officially begun.

I recently joined Liberty as an expert in EU law to conduct in-depth research into what Brexit could mean for human rights. With the white paper on the Great Repeal Bill landing tomorrow, I’ve got my work cut out.

This is the biggest shake-up of our laws in generations, and everyone from business leaders and environmentalists to local councils and hospitals quite rightly want to have their say.

At Liberty, our concern is that the Government could use this tumultuous negotiating period to undermine our rights and freedoms. But the British public voted to leave the EU – not to abandon their rights. So we’ll be campaigning to keep them intact.

We’ll be focussing on:

  • Securing the rights of EU citizens currently resident in the UK, and those of UK citizens in the remaining 27 EU Member States

Both sides of the negotiating table need to recognise that citizens are not bargaining chips.

Polling shows 84 per cent of the British public agree that EU citizens should be able to remain in this country – and the official Vote Leave campaign promised as much ahead of the referendum.

The UK Government should lead by example and set the tone for the withdrawal process by making strong commitments to EU nationals living in the UK.

  • The legal status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and those rights held under the Charter with no domestic equivalent

Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Charter is tied to EU membership. It sets out the rights and freedoms found in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the common constitutional traditions of EU Member States – as well as additional rights in areas like data protection, and guarantees on bioethics and transparent administration.

The ECHR has been incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act, but the Charter is directly applicable (and applies to national authorities when implementing EU law). Importantly, it’s possible we could lose the additional rights it enshrines after withdrawal.

  • Ensuring any changes to policy areas subject to negotiation between the UK and EU don't lead to a weakening of human rights protections

This is where we’ll get down into the details of the negotiations – so we’ll be conducting research focussing particularly on immigration, police and security cooperation, and privacy.

But we’ll also be working on equalities legislation, social and economic rights and labour rights as they come to the fore.

For tomorrow’s white paper to set the right tone for what is to come, it must guarantee that every human right gained through our membership of the European Union will be safeguarded.

And the Government must make a firm commitment that so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers to amend laws without parliamentary scrutiny won’t be used by the executive to undermine our rights.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has a strong track record of standing up for civil liberties and human rights. Let’s hope he lives up to that reputation.

We’re going to need all the support we can get with this. Please join Liberty today and stand up for human rights

George Wilson profile

George Wilson

EU Law and Policy Specialist