News at last from the Brussels departure lounge

Posted by Sam Hawke on 18 January 2017

In an unprecedented era of mass hacking, dossier leaks and nation-on-nation cyber-attacks, one secret has remained off-limits to all – what will Brexit mean for rights protection in the UK?

Amongst the soundbites, rhetoric and economic jargon, we’ve yet to have any detail of the Government’s plan for leaving the European Union (EU).

Liberty laid down what the Government must do so that our human rights aren’t left on the runway as everything else departs Europe. So how did Theresa May’s big speech stack up against our concerns?

The rule of (EU) law

Chief among our worries is that Brexit will result in the loss of the rights protections people in the UK have gained through membership of the EU.

Yesterday the Prime Minister spoke of providing certainty whenever possible – and this meant converting existing EU law into domestic law. She said we will have the same laws the day after Brexit as the day before it – and any later changes would have to be fully scrutinised, debated, and voted on in Parliament.

We remind Theresa May that much EU law has applied on our shores automatically over the years. Once we exit, these “directly-effective” laws will have no effect whatsoever – including the vital EU Torture Regulation, which bans the sale of goods the only practical use for which is torture or the death penalty. It’s entirely unclear what legal force these crucial safeguards will have once we leave the EU.

So she must – literally – legislate for these in order to remain true to her word.

The same is true of any protections brought into UK law by secondary legislation under the European Communities Act. As that Act is likely to be repealed as part of the ‘Great Repeal’, all secondary legislation vanishes with it.

It also wasn’t explicitly stated that pre-existing EU Court of Justice case law will continue to have effect once the UK removes itself from the Court’s jurisdiction.

Our demand remains the same – the Government must commission an independent review of all EU rights law and rulings of the Court to ensure that no one is less protected post-Brexit.

Home and away

Liberty had previously warned the Government not to treat the rights of EU citizens living in the UK as bargaining chips, dangling mass deportations above their heads to ensure a better business deal.

Thankfully yesterday Mrs May promised to uphold their rights to remain, work and go to school, while simultaneously securing the same for Brits across the continent.

As the Lords recently stated, uncertainty around the status of Europeans in the United Kingdom was potentially “fuelling xenophobic sentiment”, so this is a very welcome announcement indeed.

Hate crime

But it’s that xenophobic sentiment to which we must return. The Brexit process provides an opportunity for the Government to finally address the surge in hate crime following the referendum.

Divisive and discriminatory rhetoric marred the referendum campaign and emboldened those with prejudiced views to act in a hateful and violent manner towards minority groups – with fatal consequences.

The Government has yet to properly make clear its absolute commitment to overcoming hate crime, including that against migrants and refugees. Only then might the UK be “stronger, fairer and more united”.

Research vacancy

The Prime Minister’s speech was positive, but did not answer all of our questions – questions we will never stop asking.

Liberty is carrying out comprehensive research into the implications of Brexit for human rights and civil liberties in the UK – and is looking for an EU Law and Policy Specialist to join the team.