Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 1:45 pm, 21st November 2017

That of course was one of the great anxieties when the charter was enacted. Indeed, it is the reason for the UK’s so-called opt-out, but it is not an opt-out because, in so far as the charter reflects general principles of EU law, we are bound by it. One example, which my right hon. Friend will remember, was the case of Chester and McGeoch and prisoner voting rights. There was an attempt to invoke EU law as a tool in order to force the UK Government to bring in prisoner voting, at least in relation to European elections. I think that it is fair to say that it caused much disquiet in Government as to the possibility that that might be the outcome of the court case. Indeed, I went to argue the court case as Attorney General on the Government’s behalf in our Supreme Court. Invoking EU law was used as a tool, but it did not lead to that outcome.

Looking back over the history of the charter, I do not think that some of the fears that were expressed—that it would be used for an expansionist purpose by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg—have been proved to be correct. In any event, we are leaving the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, unless we have to stay in it for transitional purposes. When we are gone it will be our own Supreme Court, in which I have enormous confidence, that will carry out that interpretation. I do not want to labour this point much further. I simply want to say that there is a really important issue for us to debate. It is about what happens to the sorts of rights that have come to us through the charter and through the EU. The matter cannot be ignored. In the short term—the sword of Damocles moment again—the Government must think about it before the Bill has finished going through this House.