Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 1:30 pm, 21st November 2017

I thought Factortame would come along at some point in this debate. My hon. Friend is of course right about that. I know that he has spent most of his career in this House agonising over the issue of the loss or diminution of parliamentary sovereignty. That is not a matter to be neglected, and if he will wait just a moment I shall come to that point.

As I said, by raising the points he has through tabling new clause 16, the hon. Member for Nottingham East has done the right thing, because we need to focus on what is going to happen after we have left the EU. Of course my hon. Friend Sir William Cash is correct: the laws that we have enacted, as at the date of exit, as a consequence of our EU membership and the requirement for us to adhere to the charter, will remain in place, but it is interesting that they will thereafter be wholly unprotected. For example, they will not even enjoy the special protection that we crafted in the Human Rights Act for other areas deemed to be of importance.

One solution may be that, in due course, we ought to think carefully about whether there are other categories of rights additional to the European convention on human rights—heaven knows we have been here before—that ought to enjoy the sort of protection that the Human Rights Act affords other rights. That might well be the way forward. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is slightly strange that, in leaving the EU for national sovereignty reasons, we should then say that we will continue to entrench certain categories of rights protected in the charter and give them a status even higher than, for example, prohibiting torture under the ECHR. That might strike people as rather odd. On that basis, I am forced to conclude that, if we are leaving the EU, as we intend to do, the sort of entrenchment that has previously existed is not sustainable. We will have to come back to this House to consider how we move forward, but, in saying that, I think that this is a very big issue indeed.

It worries me that, when we leave in March 2019, there will be a hiatus. There will be a gap where areas of law that matter to people are not protected in any way at all. It is no surprise, therefore, that non-governmental organisations have been bombarding MPs with their anxiety. I think that that anxiety is misplaced, because I cannot believe that any Member on the Treasury Front Bench intends to diminish existing rights. However, we are in danger from two things. One is sclerosis—that the rights development will cease. Secondly, because those rights do not enjoy any form of special status—many, not necessarily all, should certainly do so—there will be occasions when we nibble away at them and then discover that they have been lost. For that reason, it is a really urgent issue for consideration by this House, preferably before or shortly after we leave.