Tory government votes not to retain European human rights charter in UK law after Brexit

Conservatives insist basic rights will still be protected under existing laws that will remain after Britain leaves the EU

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 January 2018 21:32 GMT
Dominic Grieve discusses Labour's bid to include the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit

MPs have voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit.

A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Jeremy Corbyn, sought to retain the provisions in the Charter but was voted down by 317 votes to 299.

The EU Withdrawal Bill, which is currently in its report stage in the House of Commons, will transfer all existing EU law into UK law when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

However, it includes several exceptions, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The bill states: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.”

The Charter includes a wide range of basic protections, including the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights governing how workers are treated. It is broader than the European Convention on Human Rights, which is already part of UK law through the Human Rights Act.

Government ministers insist the protections enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights either already exist in British law or else will be incorporated through other EU directives.

The Government avoided a potential parliamentary defeat on the issue late last year after promising to undertake a “right-by-right analysis” of how the protections enshrined in the Charter will be guaranteed after Brexit.

The potential rebellion was averted when Tory rebels including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve agreed to back down after receiving reassurances from ministers.

However, Labour says the subsequent analysis, published last month, is “woefully inadequate” and pushed ahead with its amendment.

“The document they released fails to provide any assurance that essential rights will be protected once we leave the EU,” Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said earlier this month.

“On the contrary, it takes rights from the charter and scatters them to their original sources: the polar opposite of effective human rights protection.

During debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill on Tuesday, Mr Grieve said failing to incorporate the Charter into UK law after Brexit would send out “a really strange message” about the Conservative's approach to human rights, and urged peers to consider the issue when the bill passes to the House of Lords.

Mr Grieve said: “I listen very carefully to what the Prime Minister says about modernising the Conservative Party, about giving it a broad appeal to younger people, about trying to ensure that we reflect current norms and standards in our country and give effect to them in the sorts of policies we develop.

”And yet ... it does seem to me that in simply batting this issue away and saying don't worry, it's all going to be perfectly alright, without even coming up with a plan for the future about possibly adding a bill of rights clause or rights clauses to the Human Rights Act, we're sending out a really very strange message about our attitude on this side of the House to matters which I believe many people in this country now see as being rights of a fundamental character, particularly on issues like LGBT and things of that sort.“

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