Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 5:30 pm, 21st November 2017

I can assure the hon. Lady that this Government and, I am sure, all successive Governments will remain strongly committed to the Good Friday agreement and to the protection of individual rights. As she will appreciate, of course, the agreement expressly referred to in the Good Friday agreement in relation to human rights is the European convention on human rights. However, I fully understand her point of view on this matter, and it will always be important for us as a Chamber to respect individual rights. The tenet of my speech is that we do not need the charter to enable us to do that. We have extensive legal frameworks available to us as a Parliament, and through our judiciary and legal system, and that will ensure that we properly protect our citizens, whether in Northern Ireland or in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Let me turn to my final reason for concern. I well remember the clarity of former Prime Minister Tony Blair about the fact that the charter would not be given legal force. As far back as 2000, the Prime Minister and the Europe Minister of the day stated that very clearly for the House. In 2003, the Labour Government’s lead negotiator on the convention, Peter Hain, said there was no possibility of the Government agreeing to incorporate the charter. In 2007, Tony Blair told Parliament that we had an opt-out from the charter, and this approach was supported by a number of pro-EU groups, such as the CBI. Even my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke expressed scepticism about the charter and described it as “a needless diversion”.

While the ECJ may since have ruled that the opt-out secured by Mr Blair was nothing of the sort, we now have the opportunity to see those promises fulfilled. We have a long history of protecting the rights of the individual against the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. We have ample means to do that in the future, with hundreds of years of case law and statute establishing strong principles of accountability in our unwritten constitution. We can legislate in the future if we ever find any gaps in our current framework. We do not need the charter to protect our citizens, and I appeal to Members not to accept the amendments being debated today.