This week, Theresa May published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – also known as the 'Great Repeal Bill', a significant step in the Brexit process. But unless something changes in the Repeal Bill, it's a step that will reduce our human rights.
The stated intent behind the Repeal Bill is to make a start on the huge task of sorting out UK law after leaving the EU. Simply put, it creates a way to copy and paste UK laws which are from the EU into a form that means they won't disappear on Brexit day.
However, the bit of EU law the government has chosen explicitly to leave out from that process is the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.
No guarantee of not reducing rights protections
They claim the Charter doesn't create any new rights, and that the way they've written the Bill won’t reduce them anyway. That doesn’t appear to us to be the case.
Among many important areas the Charter (which is different to the European Convention on Human Rights, and which actually has nothing to do with the EU) covers is data protection. In just one example of its importance, it was the basis for UK judges concluding that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 was rights abusive. In fact, the current Brexit Secretary David Davis thought these rights to be so 'fundamental', that it was he who took the UK government to court during that case to try and protect them – including going all the way to the European Court of Justice.
Also very worrying is that the Repeal Bill includes broad powers for ministers to alter UK laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny, and there isn't any guarantee that won't be used (intentionally or otherwise) to reduce human rights protections.
Brexit doesn't have to be this way
We, along with Liberty, call on the Government to urgently:
• Promise it will not use the Repeal Bill to roll back human rights and freedoms. This pledge should be in the text of the Bill, and must include a commitment not to erode our human rights via back-door legislation;
• Conduct a comprehensive audit of all EU-derived human rights law and take steps to keep those rights and freedoms fully protected after Brexit.
The vote to leave the European Union was not a mandate for ministers to take rights away from people in the UK. Paying lip service to protecting our rights doesn't count for anything if those protections are not in the legislation – in black and white.