Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 21st November 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 21st November 2017

I rise to give my support and that of the Scottish National party to the amendments designed to retain the charter of fundamental rights in domestic law, and those designed to preserve legal remedies for individuals and businesses to enforce these rights in the courts and to be compensated when the rights are breached.

It is heartening to see such strong cross-party support for these amendments. I very much hope that the Conservative rebels will have the courage of their convictions to push these amendments to a vote tonight, despite the unpleasant pressure they have been subjected to as a result of the actions of certain newspapers. That is a matter for them. There are other cross-party amendments on the charter that I am sure will be pressed to a vote if those in the name of Mr Grieve are not pushed to a vote.

Before I address why the SNP supports these amendments, I have a crucial question for the Minister. It needs to be answered, not for my benefit, but for the benefit of the whole House and, indeed, the country. The clause we are debating today revolves around the supremacy of EU law and whether the charter will be part of domestic law after exit day, but, as has already been mentioned in our debate, this morning the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a routine Westminster briefing that the Government expect

“the ECJ’s role to be unchanged during an ‘implementation period’
of around two years following the official Brexit date in March 2019”.

Are those on the Treasury Bench aware of that statement? Can they explain to us how it impacts on what we are debating today? If the Prime Minister is of the view, as her spokesman has said, that the Court of Justice’s role will be unchanged during a two-year implementation period from exit day, not only is the rather ridiculous amendment brought to this House by the Government last week defining exit day rendered utterly meaningless, but much of the debate we are having this afternoon about clause 5 and, indeed, the debate we had last week about clause 6 and other clauses are rendered meaningless.

I am not trying to score a party political point here. This is a matter of legal certainty which is of the utmost importance to all UK citizens and to UK business and universities. Which is it? Is what the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this morning correct? Is the Court of Justice’s role going to continue unchanged during a two-year implementation period and, if so, how does that impact on what we are debating today? I am very happy for the Minister to intervene on me to clarify that, but if he wishes to take advice, I am sure that his ministerial colleague the Solicitor General will clarify that vital point and the impact of the Prime Minister’s statement this morning on the entirety of this Bill, and most particularly the clause we are debating.

In any event, if this somewhat holed-beneath-the-waterline Bill is to survive and limp on, the SNP commits itself wholeheartedly to the amendments to keep the charter of fundamental rights and to keep individuals’ and businesses’ rights to sue and enforce and make those rights meaningful, because that is what the individual right of enforcement and Francovich damages are all about: making rights meaningful. For anyone who has studied law, a right without a remedy is a pretty useless thing; it is trite law.

The Scottish Government published their programme for government earlier this year, and reiterated their commitment to international human rights norms. It is important to remember that human rights are not wholly reserved by this Parliament when it comes to the devolution settlement, so what the Scottish Government choose to do could be very important, particularly if Scotland is to be taken out of the European Union against her will. My colleagues in the Scottish Government have emphasised that it is essential that existing safeguards are not undermined by Brexit, and that the rights enjoyed by everyone in these islands, as EU citizens, need to be permanently locked into a future deal. That is why we oppose the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights from domestic law, and why we opposed the Government’s previous desire to repeal the Human Rights Act.

I was interested in the Minister’s reiteration—in fairness, this has been reiterated by the Government several times during this debate—that there is no intention to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. But, as I have already said, rights without remedies are not much use. The great thing about the Human Rights Act was that it gave UK citizens the opportunity to enforce their rights by raising actions in the courts of their own jurisdiction. Will the Minister—or the Solicitor General, when he gets to his feet—confirm the Government’s intentions regarding the Human Rights Act?