TUESDAY NOVEMBER 21ST IS #BRINGHOMEOURRIGHTS

The government’s decision to hold day three of the Committee Stage next week, the day before the Budget, has taken many by surprise. However this is a significant day for the bill, as it is on day three that MPs will debate whether to abandon the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is what the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is currently proposing, despite the government claiming that the bill is simply a ‘copy and paste’ job.

The Charter provides the overarching framework for human rights in the EU, of which the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) forms only one part. However clause 5(4) of the bill states explicitly that the Charter will not be part of domestic law after Brexit Day.

This clause has provoked some of the greatest criticism from politicians, commentators and civil society groups, who are claiming that removing the Charter will contribute to uncertainty regarding the protection of rights in the UK, and of their interpretation in UK courts post-Brexit.

For years the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has provided a clear framework for rights that are fundamental to the way we live, and enjoy, our lives - the right to life, human dignity, liberty, property, privacy, freedom of expression. The Charter protects the rights of children, the elderly, LGBT people. It protects workers’ rights and the rights to conduct business.

The EU Charter also provides more protection than the ECHR in certain important areas -  the right to a fair trial, including the right of access to a lawyer, the right to deportation hearings, the protection of personal data, same-sex marriage, and employment rights.

There is further disquiet over clause 5(4) of the Withdrawal Bill. While the government says the bill will retain every other EU law, the Charter is set to go. This contradicts the government's stated aim in its European Union (Withdrawal) Bill Explanatory Notes that the bill  will give legal continuity and the promise that the bill “does not aim to make major changes to policy”

There may well be a need to revisit and amend the Charter after Brexit, after all, a key motivation behind Brexit was to take back control of over lawmaking. But for the purposes of legal continuity and stability on Brexit day, which is the explicit purpose of the Withdrawal Bill, it is important that there is parity of treatment with all transposed EU law. The policy changes that some are calling for can certainly be made in the future, but making fundamental changes to the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy must be done through primary legislation.

A detailed look at day 3 of Committee Stage

Tomorrow will see Clause 5 and Schedule 1 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill debated. Clause 5 sets out two exceptions to the saving and incorporation (referred to as preservation and conversion in these notes) of EU law provided for under clauses 2, 3, and 4. Schedule 1 sets out some further exceptions to the preservation and conversion of EU law. It is the amendments   around the Charter where the debate is likely to be the liveliest and the longest. See Notice of amendments.

Chris Leslie (Labour), Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), and Dominic Grieve (Conservative) have substantial amendments down that would retain the Charter. However it is Grieve's amendments - Amendments 8 and 10 - that have attracted most cross-party support, and therefore most chance of success. It is also these amendments - to retain the Charter and the right to bring court action under General Principles that protect important rights such as fair treatment and equality - that have most support from Alliance members.

You can follow the votes on the day by using the free Commons Votes app which provides useful data such as a quick breakdown by parties within a few minutes of each division. Or access it here https://hansard.parliament.uk/search/Divisions?house=commons.

The lists of Members voting are published in Hansard.

It cannot be underestimated how significant day 3 of Committee Stage is. The intentional exclusion of the Charter from the transposition process undermines the very core of the government’s argument that this bill is merely a technical ‘cut and paste’ job. One of the unifying aims being the Alliance is to ensure that the bill is amended to maintain a high standards UK. We are simply asking that the government bring powers back home in one piece, and that hard-won rights and freedoms are not lost. We are asking for nothing more than the government to stick to it’s word - that this is a ‘copy and paste job’. That means the Charter must not be lost.

Actions to take in the critical days ahead of Tuesday

There are a wide range of ways your organisation (or your supporters or member organisations) can get involved and help spread the word about the threat to our rights before Tuesday:

  • Phone/Email your MP (or ask your supporters / member organisations to do so) to make sure they turn up and vote! And even better, vote to support and protect their constituents rights by voting for amendments that retain the Charter
  • Tweet at supportive MPs and encourage them to keep on going, and in particular the ‘Scrutineers’ (the rebel Tories labelled mutineers by the Telegraph)

  • Retweet the Alliance’s tweets, we’ll be following the debate closely - @fixrepealbill

  • Help to spread the word through your own networks and websites

  • Consider supporting the People's Clause that Liberty is promoting

For further information check out this briefing and this briefing from Liberty

Malene Bratlie