Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 21st November 2017

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that point was also made by Dr O’Brien in her evidence. If in the snapshot of retained EU law that will be taken on exit day we are taking across all sorts of aspects of EU law that refer to the charter, then it is nonsensical not to take the charter across as well, particularly if the Government insist on sticking to what they say in the explanatory notes, which is that the charter does not really add anything that is not already in the general principles. What it does add is clarity.

The process of leaving the European Union is already extremely complex and unpredictable, and the removal of the charter of fundamental rights simply risks creating an additional level of legal uncertainty and instability. So why do it? Why not reconsider? The Government have bigger issues on their plate, such as the Prime Minister’s spokesperson’s admission this morning that we will be in the European Court of Justice for another two years after exit day, which as I said earlier renders a lot of what we are discussing this afternoon somewhat irrelevant—at least in the short term. The Government have bigger fish to fry, so why remove the charter? Why take away from ordinary British citizens and businesspeople the right to sue to enforce their rights and to realise damages if their rights have been breached? Why do that unless it is part of a wider agenda—one bigger than Brexit—that is about rolling the United Kingdom back from its adherence to international human rights norms? The Government need to think carefully about the message they are sending out.

It was reported just last night that a distinguished British jurist who had been put up to be a judge at the International Court of Justice has had to withdraw from the race, because other countries in the UN are keener on somebody from another country. Even as a Scottish nationalist, I can see that that is a setback for the United Kingdom’s world standing. For so long as Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, I would like it to be an outward-looking country—indeed, I would very much like the rest of the UK to continue to be outward looking even after Scotland leaves the UK —but that sort of thing does not inspire confidence in the British Government’s adherence to international human rights norms. I invite the Government to think again, and I look forward to hearing their response to several questions that I have raised this afternoon, the most important of which relates to the statement by the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, but equally as important is the situation of Northern Ireland.