Withdrawal Bill must be urgently amended to protect people from Government rollback on fundamental rights after Brexit
Amnesty International and Liberty are calling on MPs to add a ‘People’s Clause’ to the Withdrawal Bill to stop ministers stripping away vital rights protections as they rewrite UK laws after Brexit.
The Bill, which is back in the Commons on Thursday, grants ministers unprecedented and incredibly broad powers to alter laws without the usual parliamentary scrutiny – and contains nothing to stop those powers being used to weaken laws protecting equal treatment for workers and LGBTI, disabled and elderly people.
There is no formal commitment anywhere in the Bill’s 66 pages that important rights and equality protections stemming from EU membership will be maintained in UK law after Brexit. Instead, it takes away ordinary people’s ability to rely on those protections in UK courts.
Liberty and Amnesty are calling on MPs to amend the Bill to include a binding commitment on the Government to prevent it eroding rights.
The legislation already contains a similar clause stopping the Government using its massive new powers to raise taxes – though even those restrictions do not apply to powers in the Bill’s small print.
Rachel Logan, Law and Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said:
“It’s critical that our hard-won rights and equality protections don’t diminish after Brexit, and that is why we’re calling for safeguards to be added to this Bill.
“As it is, the Withdrawal Bill would see Parliament surrender broad power to ministers to change laws without proper scrutiny, setting a dangerous precedent. Parliament would be less sovereign and that cannot be right.
“We cannot stand idly by and risk ministers using cloak and dagger tactics in the future to roll back rights and equality protections that are in place to defend us all.
“It should not be beyond the capability of Parliament or the Government to ensure we leave the EU without losing our human rights in the process.”
Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, said:
“This law will affect everybody in the UK – you, your parents, your children – for generations to come. Ministers saying ‘trust us’ just is not enough when the stakes are this high. Surely the Government can’t oppose one simple amendment to stop them taking away our rights?
“We need a formal commitment – a People’s Clause – in the text of the Repeal Bill that guarantees we’ll bring home all the fundamental rights we had before Brexit. People voted to leave the EU – not lose their rights.”
John Walker and equal pension rights
Liberty client John Walker’s recent victory for equal pension rights for same-sex couples typifies the rights at risk post-Brexit.
The UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in July that a loophole letting employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into pension funds before December 2005 is discriminatory and breaches EU equality laws.
The ruling was based on parts of EU law preventing discrimination which are not protected by the Withdrawal Bill – meaning there is a risk this right to equality will be lost during the Brexit process, with same-sex couples in the UK once again becoming second-class citizens when it comes to their pension rights.
The Government – which backed Mr Walker’s employer and fought the case up to the UK’s highest court – has refused to offer any reassurance that this right to equal access to pensions, or any other such rights covered by EU law, will continue to apply after Brexit.
John Walker said:
“The Government forced me to fight for years to win the same basic rights as my colleagues. Two months after the judgment, I am still waiting for a guarantee that my partner and thousands of others will stay protected after Brexit.
“We cannot simply trust ministers to do the right thing when it comes to our rights, because sometimes – as my case shows – they just don’t. We need a commitment in the black and white letter of the law. Every MP owes it to the people they represent to back the People’s Clause and stand up for rights that many of us have fought long and hard for.”