Leaving the EU must not be used to water down civil liberties
Human rights lawyers warn that Brexit may not only damage the economy but also do harm to the rights that people in the UK have.
As a Remain voter, I was worried about the lack of interest both sides during the EU referendum showed for fundamental rights.
The referendum became a referendum on the price of milk, or jobs in the City, rather than broader questions of how we protect rights and the environment in a complex world.
Much of what the EU does for human rights has been obscured by politicians, both pro-European and anti-European, or wrongly attacked for decades.
In particular, new human rights enshrined in EU law from the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 were underplayed.
Labour didn’t want to acknowledge the step-change in rights that Lisbon represented, partly due to a wish to avoid a referendum on the Treaty.
In the end, the lack of a referendum may have led us to where we are now – exiting the EU.
It’s not too late for us to fight back.
I’m working on a new campaign – ‘THEY’RE YOUR RIGHTS: FIGHT FOR THEM’ to ensure the rights of British people that are protected by EU law are saved from the process of Brexit irrespective of whether it is hard or soft.
What does the EU have to do with human rights?
Confusingly, there are two main texts for human rights in Europe which overlap – the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’), developed by the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights which comes from the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe also covers non-EU countries like Russia and Norway and was conceived by Winston Churchill after World War II.
With the UK leaving the EU, They’re Your Rights wants to ensure these Charter rights are protected in British law and not left behind.
What are these EU rights?
1. Right to privacy and protection of personal data
Article 8 of the Charter is increasingly important as people open up aspects of their lives in the online world. It prevents the information you leave behind from being abused. UK law currently has no specific human right to protect citizens’ data.
This is even more important because successive UK governments have developed an appetite for spying on the British people most recently under the controversial Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
2. Access to Justice
Article 47 of the Charter sets out that funding shall be made available to those who can’t afford to pay for their own lawyer but have a case the courts need to hear. Legal Aid was envisioned by Clement Attlee, the post-war Prime Minister who created the NHS.
He saw Legal Aid as essential to a fairer and just society and to ensure everyone had access to justice. Without a right to legal aid protected, governments can shift legal costs onto the impoverished to prevent them arguing a just cause.
3. Freedom of the arts and sciences
Article 13 of the Charter enshrines the independence of universities and academia from too much government interference, meaning they can pursue research motivated by intellectual not political goals.
For example, there are now government plans afoot to scrap seven of the Queen’s Royal Charters, which enable academic independence from government, and are linked to the UK’s research councils.
This threatens to politicise £3 billion a year of investments that allow our scientists to make ground-breaking discoveries.
4. Right to conduct a business
Article 16 of the Charter incorporates the freedom to exercise an economic or commercial activity; the freedom of contract; and free competition.
Companies have been able to rely on this right when they have operated under EU law and this could affect jobs if you want to set up a business here or in the EU in the future.
5. Protection of the environment
Article 37 of the Charter provides a high level of protection for the environment and has made it imperative that governments take action and sign international climate change treaties.
One example of how this protects people is the successful legal case brought against the government over the appalling air quality in UK cities that has lead to the silent deaths of thousands.
Without an established right, government will be more free to squirm away from legal limits to harming the environment.
If you want to protect these rights, please do join the campaign.
We’ll be holding the government to account over the next few months, and want to ensure Labour commit to the strongest protection possible for these rights.
Although Britain is leaving the EU, this can’t be used an as opportunity to water down civil liberties we’ve fought for.
Charlene Badibanga is Advocacy Executive at 89up
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