Peers lodge cross-party ‘Do No Harm’ amendment to key Brexit bill
As we leave the EU we must ensure future governments do not roll back the progress we’ve made on public health, write Lord Hunt, Lord Warner, Lord Patel and Baroness Jolly
Whatever one’s position on Brexit, an issue on which we can all unite is the health of our citizens. That is why we have tabled a cross-party ‘Do No Harm’ amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, around which peers from across the political divide and the health sector have offered their backing.
The public health amendment commits this and future UK and devolved governments, and public authorities, to ensuring that the public’s health and wellbeing continues to be of the highest priority after the UK leaves the EU. It is an opportunity, at this time of unprecedented uncertainty, for the government to provide reassurance to the public health and wider health community, and to the public as a whole, that they have nothing to fear from Brexit in terms of the nation’s future health.
In this way, the amendment also offers clarity and reassurance on the tone and guiding principles for the UK’s Brexit negotiations across the board, including our future trade negotiations with the EU and around the world. Protecting our future generation’s health is not one issue alone among many others that governments must consider in deciding policy. To protect our nation’s health is to protect our most basic, and essential, asset. It must surely be seen as of paramount importance – alongside the security of our nation and our economic prosperity.
This amendment then provides another piece of the puzzle that is our British ‘constitution’ by ensuring, as we take back Parliamentary sovereignty, that this and future governments, and public authorities, commit to ‘do no harm’ to our health. And, through this amendment, the government can affirm its commitment to building a post-Brexit economy based on maintaining, and improving, workers’ current high levels of health, wellbeing and productivity – reassuring business.
In turn this new clause would send a strong signal to our European partners that the UK will continue to play a leading role in promoting and ensuring public health – in Europe and globally. It will signal that the UK is committed to maintaining our public health agenda to the high standards that we have established together – because ultimately public health is most effective when it can operate well across borders to similar standards, priorities and expectations.
By drawing on the language of Article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty, the amendment has the advantage of existing legal precedent and interpretative guidance on which to draw when determining its meaning, ensuring certainty and consistency. However, the amendment is not about preserving EU law and regulation in aspic. It would be for British courts, on the basis of our doctrines of Parliamentary sovereignty, to decide the specifics of future interpretation in concrete cases.
This is about acknowledging that we have made huge progress in public health during our time in the EU, and as we leave, the government and future governments are committed to ensuring we do not roll back from the progress we have made. Such an approach would have the strong support of the public health and wider health sector, and would be welcomed by the public.
The government’s assurances on the public’s health now and in the future, are welcome. Putting those assurances on the face of the Bill will ensure that the ‘do no harm’ principle is taken into account for all future law and policy making flowing from the UK leaving the EU. We hope the government will recognise the positive opportunity this amendment presents and will support it in principle at Committee Stage, and bring forward its own amendment in advance of Report Stage.
We hope further Peers might also join us and support the amendment at Committee Stage, and on social media using #BrexitDoNoHarm.
Lord Warner is a non-affiliated peer, Lord Patel is a crossbench peer, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is a Labour peer and Baroness Jolly is a Liberal Democrat peer. The ‘Do No Harm’ amendment will be debated w/c 12th March