COMMITTEE STAGE DAY 3: A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION TO BRING HOME HOME OUR RIGHTS
Yesterday was a key debate on the retention of fundamental rights after Brexit. At first glance, the rejection of the Opposition’s amendment to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights may seem like a disappointing defeat for civil society and individuals. However, yesterday’s debate saw MPs from all parties doing their job as parliamentarians - scrutinising legislation, having a deliberative debate, and standing up to the government to in favour of protecting human rights.
Overview of yesterday's debate
Under pressure from MPs across parties, and in particular the group of persistent Conservative rebels, the government made key concessions (more details below) on maintaining the Charter and EU General principles. The Alliance and its members have played a central role in shaping the debate on fundamental rights and pushing the government to recognise the importance of the Charter and EU General Principles. It is therefore welcome that the government has shown a commitment to outline how those rights and principles will be protected. We look forward to the seeing how the government will make good on promises made yesterday.
It was heartening to see the concerns the Alliance has raised about the government’s intentional exclusion of the Charter in the Withdrawal Bill voiced during yesterday’s debate, by MPs from all parties. Opposition MPs and Tory backbenchers questioned the reason for excluding the Charter - particularly when the government has claimed that the purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is to simply ‘copy and paste’ EU law into domestic law.
Key figures like Paul Blomfield (Labour) and Joanna Cherry (SNP) pointed out that by compiling and codifying rights and principles in a single document, the Charter make those rights and protections more readily accessible. Lady Hermon (Independent) also made a powerful point about what effects the removal of the Charter will have on Northern Ireland and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. Part of that agreement relies on Northern Ireland’s rights and protections being equivalent with rights in Ireland- excluding the Charter may risk that equivalence.
Concessions made by the Government
- Significantly, the concerns about where Charter rights are reflected in UK law led the government to commit to publish a memorandum by 5th December. This would set out all the rights in the Charter and where they can be found elsewhere in UK law.
- After agreeing that there “should be appropriate mechanisms for challenging the actions of the Executive”, Solicitor General Robert Buckland said the government will work with Dominic Grieve (former Attorney General and key Conservative critic of the bill), to resolve his concerns about how the bill does not allow challenges to be brought against retained EU law.
- The government will also bring forward its own amendments at Report Stage for the purposes of clarifying the principles that allow citizens to take legal action against the government. As a result, Dominic Grieve withdrew his amendment which had set out to ensure that individuals could challenge retained EU law on the grounds that it breaches with EU General Principles.
Breakdown of last night's votes
- New Clause 79 was rejected by 314 to 295 votes. This Clause would have ensured that Parliament was informed of changes in EU and EEA provisions that might have amended UK laws around family-friendly employment rights and gender equality.
- Amendment 46 was rejected by 311 to 301 votes. This would have removed the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from retained EU law.
- Amendment 139 was rejected by 315 to 295 votes. The amendment would have restored the right to obtain damages after exit day in respect of government failures before exit day to comply with EU obligation.
- Amendment 336 rejected by 315 to 296 votes. The amendment would have retained existing principles of EU law within domestic law, whether they originated in the case law of European Court of Justice, EU treaties, direct EU legislation or EU directives.
- Schedule 1 will remain part of the bill by 313 to 295 votes.
- New Clause 16 (tabled by Chris Leslie, Labour) and Amendment 10 (tabled by Dominic Grieve) were withdrawn as a result of Government concessions.
What’s coming up next
Next up for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is a debate on Clause 11 and Schedule 3, as well as related new clauses and amendments. These clauses relate to devolution. We are gearing up to that and urge Alliance members to support principles that will ensure the devolution settlement is not undermined.
In preparation for the devolution debate here’s some key reading that will get you up to speed:
- House of Lords European Union Committee report - Brexit: Devolution
- Scottish Affairs Committee report - How the EU Withdrawal Bill affects devolution in Scotland
- Welsh Assembly research briefing - Introductory guide on the Withdrawal Bill and its implications for Wales
- The New York Review of Books (Fintan O’Toole) - Brexit and the Irish question