Dozens of organisations join forces to issue ‘save our EU rights’ plea ahead of Brexit Bill battle

Rights to privacy, equality, freedom of expression, fair working conditions, a fair trial, access to a lawyer and the protection of personal data are all in potential jeopardy, they warn

The Charter placed human rights principles at the core of EU law when it came into force in 2009
The Charter placed human rights principles at the core of EU law when it came into force in 2009

More than 80 civic organisations join forces today to issue a “save our EU rights” plea, ahead of a major Commons battle over the Brexit bill.

The alliance is urging MPs to stage a revolt to prevent Theresa May stripping the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the UK statue book when Britain leaves the EU.

Individual rights to privacy, equality, freedom of expression, fair working conditions, a fair trial, access to a lawyer and the protection of personal data are all in potential jeopardy, it says.

“MPs who believe in freedom, fairness and standing up for their constituents’ rights should vote to keep the Charter, “ said Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, on behalf of the alliance.

A Conservative revolt is expected when the Charter is debated on Tuesday – led by Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General – which makes the outcome hard to predict.

However, Brexit-backing Tory MPs mounted a fightback over the weekend, arguing only lawyers who “love the extra layers of rights and the fees that they bring” have an interest in retaining it.

Britain should be “proud” of its record as a founder member of the European Convention of Human Rights, which meant the threat was non-existent, they insisted.

The clash will come when the EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the Commons, for arguments over parts of Brussels law which will not pasted into UK law in preparation for exit day.

The key clash will come over Charter of Fundamental Rights, which placed human rights principles at the core of EU law when it came into force in 2009.

Labour has condemned the refusal to incorporate it through the Bill, a criticism echoed by Mr Grieve who said it provided “essential safeguards for individuals and businesses” from legal changes.

Ten Tory MPs have signed an amendment to “allow the Charter of Fundamental Rights to continue to apply domestically”, after Brexit.

Significantly, that is the same number that forced the Prime Minister into last week’s U-turn over separate – amendable – legislation when MPs vote on any final Brexit deal.

The 80 organisations which form the Repeal Bill Alliance include everybody from Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth and Global Justice Now to groups campaigning for the environment, children’s legal rights and better nutrition and farming.

The Alliance pointed out that the Withdrawal Bill had been justified on the grounds that EU law had to be incorporated, before parts may be junked later, yet the Charter was “conspicuously excluded”.

“Ministers claim the Bill is about certainty – yet they have unilaterally decided to abandon the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the crucial protections it gives us,” Ms Spurrier added.

“If the Government wants to get on with a smooth and orderly transition, now is not the time for nakedly politicised moves and arguments over rights.”

But Suella Fernandes, chairwoman of the Conservative’s anti-EU European Research Group, led the call for Ms May to stand firm.

In a joint article for The Sunday Telegraph with John Penrose, a former constitution minister, the pair claimed that human rights laws were already “complicated”.

On the Charter, they wrote: “Lawyers will love the extra layers of rights and the fees that they bring, and it's also a core part of the Brussels project.”

The article added: “One of the main reasons for leaving the EU was to take back control of our own laws, so we don't have to do what Brussels tells us if we think it's wrong.”

Tuesday is the only day of debate on the Bill currently scheduled, with the clash over putting the precise Brexit date on the face of the legislation potentially put off until after a crunch EU summit in mid-December.

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