Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister delivered a speech outlining the guiding principles for Britain’s exit negotiations with the European Union (EU). Human rights did not feature prominently in her address, but there are a few takeaways to be aware of.
The Telegraph recently reported that May intends to campaign for the 2020 election on a promise to withdraw Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a rumour which the Prime Minister has neither confirmed or denied. However, many of the rules and regulations that actually protect our rights are found in EU law – which, for the moment at least, currently applies in the UK. For example, rights at work, data protection rights and free movement rights are anchored in EU law. Because of this, the status of EU law post-Brexit is highly relevant to the ongoing protection of human rights in the UK.
The Prime Minister was very clear that she will not be negotiating a deal that leaves the UK half-in, half-out of the EU. This, she said, means totally removing the influence that EU law and institutions have over the UK.
However, she also confirmed that this would occur gradually. Her plan is to pass a new law after Brexit that would make all current EU laws binding in the UK, allowing the government to then cut or change those they don’t like. The important rules that protect our rights may survive Brexit initially, but could be scrapped in the months and years that follow.
She also said that the UK would have to leave the European Single Market, which means that current rights of UK citizens to live and work across Europe may end. May proposed “the greatest possible access to [the Single Market] through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. But what that will mean is anyone’s guess.
Mrs. May did however talk explicitly about using Brexit as an opportunity to enhance workers’ rights. She said that EU rules protecting workers will be maintained, and expressed a desire to build on them once the exit negotiations are completed.
…we will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market — and that the voices of workers are heard by the boards of publicly listed companies for the first time.
This is a lofty aim, but Theresa May herself may not be in power for much longer after Brexit happens; the current timing would mean the UK leaves in 2019, followed by a General Election the following year. Leaving the EU will mean UK workers’ rights are no longer anchored by EU minimum standards, meaning that protections against discrimination, for example, could be increased or reduced as future governments see fit.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely we will hear much more as to which EU laws will be retained, amended or discarded until after the negotiations have ended. But it is likely that this important issue will be at the centre of the post-Brexit election in 2020.
For more on the impact of Brexit on human rights, follow the links below:
- Read the speech in full
- Fundamental rights are not a bargaining chip – Human Rights Committee.
- Plain English Explainer: Brexit in the Supreme Court.
- Government “Under Heavy Moral Obligation” To Safeguard EU Citizens’ Rights Before Brexit.
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.