Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 4:00 pm, 21st November 2017

I rise to speak to amendment 151, which, at first sight, looks rather technical but actually references, as we have already established in this debate, a hugely important issue for the UK economy. I am very grateful to all those Members, from all parties across the House, who have signed the amendment, and to the Chairman of Ways and Means for selecting it for debate.

The amendment deals with future electronic communication between the UK and the remaining member states of the European Union. The Government’s future partnership paper on this topic, published in August, was absolutely right to highlight just how important an issue this is for the UK economy. That paper pointed out that the UK accounts for 0.9% of the world’s population, 3.9% of the world’s GDP, and 11.5% of the world’s cross-border data flows, 75% of which is with other EU countries. This is an enormously important issue, particularly for the UK economy given its reliance on the digital parts of the economy.

The Government are absolutely right to argue that we must avoid restrictions on cross-border data flows because they would affect the UK more than almost any other country in the world. It is also right to point out that the UK has very strong personal data protection. That is currently being strengthened by the new Data Protection Bill being debated in the other place, which will bring our arrangements into line with the EU’s general data protection regulation, or GDPR, and the Government are absolutely right to make that point.

Nevertheless, we face a serious potential problem, and it is this: the edifice of data privacy law in the UK rests on article 8 of the charter of fundamental rights. Under clause 5(4) of this Bill, article 8 will not be part of domestic law after we have left the European Union. Will the omission of article 8 from our law make any practical difference to how the law works in the UK? There have been some suggestions that it will not, but the evidence is that, in fact, it will.

In the exchange between Joanna Cherry and my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra, we heard about the evidence given by Dr Charlotte O’Brien, a senior lecturer at York Law School, to the Committee on Exiting the European Union. She said:

“exclusion of the charter is problematic for a number of reasons”,

and I want to quote a couple of the points that she made.

Dr O’Brien said that a large number of appeal cases in UK courts cited the charter. She added:

“That is a lot of cases that have to be read differently and it is not clear how they are to be read differently.”

One of the appeal cases under discussion—we have referred to it a number of times in the debate—involved my hon. Friend Tom Watson and Mr Davis, now the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.