Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 2:00 pm, 21st November 2017

I think I could probably get a few more sentences into my stride before taking an intervention, but I certainly anticipate that I will take interventions from the hon. Gentleman.

The debate raises fundamental principles about the transposition of EU law and the important role of this House in holding the Government to account for their commitments. Last week, the focus of the debate was on the Government’s attempt to unravel the Prime Minister’s pledges on the transitional arrangements in her Florence speech, by the imposition of a defined exit day for all purposes. The Minister, Dominic Raab, made a good attempt to defend the indefensible and not commit to the application of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union throughout the transitional period; that was not the Government’s line at the time. It would have been helpful if No. 10 had said a week ago what it said this morning, namely that the Court of Justice will have jurisdiction throughout the transitional period. If that had happened, the Minister would not have been left in such a mess.

That was the focus of last week’s debate, but this week the debate is about securing the proper transfer of the rights and protections of EU law on to our statute book. That is something on which the Government have made strong claims. They have made two very clear propositions about this Bill. The first is that it serves to provide certainty and legal continuity, through the creation of the new category of retained EU law. Indeed, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said:

“The key point of this Bill is to avoid significant and serious gaps in our statute book.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017;
Vol. 628, c. 344.]

The Government’s second claim is that the Bill

“does not remove any underlying fundamental rights or principles which exist”.

And yet clause 5(4) of this Bill flies in the face of both those claims. That subsection, as has been pointed out, omits from domestic law after exit day the charter of fundamental rights, through which all EU law is interpreted. A failure to transpose the charter into EU retained law creates a gap in our statute book. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated, the Bill, as it stands, will not achieve the Government’s stated aim of non-regression on social justice issues. That is a serious matter, which the House must take account of.

We recognise that steps will be required to make the charter operable in domestic law, and there has been some debate on that already. There is no reason why this House could not direct courts in the UK to interpret retained law by taking into account Luxembourg’s interpretations, such as is the case with the Human Rights Act and the ECHR in the Strasbourg Court. That matters, and I will explain why the inclusion of the charter in retained EU law is critical to maintaining and upholding those rights.