So, What’s The Issue In A Nutshell?
Our fundamental human rights here in the UK are protected by several different laws. The Human Rights Convention was brought into UK law by the Human Rights Act and protects everything from our right to a private and family life, to our right to free speech. Being part of the Human Rights Convention and the Human Rights Court is actually nothing to do with do with being part of the European Union – the Court is a separate institution that was set up after World War II to safeguard our basic rights. However, our planned exit from the EU has created some confusion, and reinvigorated arguments that it’s time to abandon the Human Rights Convention too.
We’e also protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which sets out certain political, social and economic rights that EU institutions have to respect when exercising their powers. Unlike the Human Rights Convention, the Charter is part of EU law and will be directly affected by Brexit. The Government has said that, when Britain leaves the EU, the the Charter will no longer have effect in UK law.
Further, many of our rights to equality and non-discrimination are protected by EU laws. All this could change.
Right, What Are UK Saying About It?
Broadly, political opinion on the Human Rights Act is split down party lines. Both the Labour and Liberal Democrats made pledges in their manifestos to keep the Act. The Conservatives previously said that they wanted to repeal the Act, although this seems to have been parked while we negotiate leaving the EU. The Tories want to leave the Convention and set up a new bill of rights, which many fear would be a watered down version. That’s not the view across the whole of the Conservative Party, though. Bright Blue, a liberal think tank backed by more than 100 Tory MPs and peers, recently published research advocating sticking with the Human Rights Act.
And The EU? What Do They Think?
Once again, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Human Rights Convention isn’t actually anything to do with the EU. Jean Claude Junker, the current President of the European Commission (one of the main bodies in the EU), has previously spoken about the importance of protecting human rights but he has also said the EU shouldn’t interfere too much with member states. It’s worth noting though, that the UK wins 99 percent of cases which go to the Human Rights Courts.
Where Have We Got To?
Negotiating the process of leaving the European Union is proving a highly complex task, and it looks as though plans to leave the Human Rights Convention have been put on hold. This is despite some senior Tories calling for us to abandon it now, as part of a “full-fat Brexit”.
It does, however, look as if we’re heading for an exit from the EU Charter, which will put some of our key rights at risk, for example the rights of the child and a general right to non-discrimination. We’ll also need to see to what extent the rights provided by EU laws will be retained and protected by the Great Repeal Bill.
Our human rights are some of our most fundamental protections, so it’s important we keep track of what’s happening to them.