Paul Blomfield: Abandoning the EU Charter leaves a ‘gaping hole’ in our statute book
The commitment to human rights protections is a British value all Members of Parliament share. But this government’s EU Withdrawal Bill puts that at risk, warns Shadow Brexit Minister Paul Blomfield
The government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill is simply not fit for purpose. As Labour has emphasised over many months and in many hours of debate in the Commons, the Bill falls short of its core aim to provide legal continuity and certainty once we have left the EU.
One glaring example of this is the failure to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law after we leave the EU.
The Charter has played a key role in developing and strengthening human rights in the UK. Abandoning it risks reducing human rights protections for UK citizens and leaving a gaping hole in our statute book.
As Keir Starmer and I have highlighted during the passage of this Bill, the Charter goes beyond the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights in many areas, from data protection to human dignity. As all EU law is interpreted through the Charter, its transposition into UK law is needed to ensure that our new category of EU retained law is properly applied, with access to effective remedy when breached, so that key rights are not diminished.
That is why the incorporation of the Charter into UK law was one of the six tests set out by Labour last July for the Bill.
Our concern was shared not just by human rights lawyers but some on the government’s own benches. In Committee, ministers offered to publish a memorandum detailing how each right in the Charter would be retained in UK law. That pledge bought them some time and averted defeat. As I made clear in the debate, a document that comprehensively identified the source of rights and how the same level of effective recourse would be achieved, could have provided a basis for reaching agreement on the issue.
Yet the government memorandum, published on 5 December, fell short of what was needed.
Indeed it made our case, by demonstrating how their plans would result in rights from the Charter being displaced from a single codifying document and scattered to their original sources. To argue that this provides the same level of protection suggests a comprehensive misunderstanding – wilful or otherwise – of the purpose of the Charter. By assembling all basic human rights in one legal home, the Charter both consolidated those rights and enhanced them, as well as provided for effective recourse.
Human rights lawyers have expressed the same concerns that the memorandum does not provide the reassurance that was being sought. The right to equality for example, contained in Article 21 of the Charter, is wider in scope than the Equality Act. Moreover, dispersing rights to wide-ranging sources dilutes them and adds to complexity, making redress much harder for ordinary citizens. The memorandum does not explain how the government will plug the gap created by abandoning the Charter.
Therefore, when the Bill returns to the Commons for Report Stage this week, Labour will seek a vote on an amendment that would ensure that Charter rights are afforded the same legal protection as those in the Human Rights Act.
Our commitment to human rights should not be a dividing line between parties, but a British value that all MPs can – and should – support.
Paul Blomfield is Labour MP for Sheffield Central and Shadow Minister for Exiting the EU