Human rights implications of Brexit

Date: 7th March 2017
Category: Other human rights treaties and mechanisms

Former SHRC Chair Professor Alan Miller has highlighted the human rights impacts of Brexit whilst the SHRC and the Jimmy Reid foundation held a joint event on 22nd February to discuss the effect of Brexit on human rights in Scotland.

Alan Miller, now a member of the first minister's standing council on Europe, has stated that it is imperative that the third sector explores and speaks up on the human rights impact of Brexit which he says poses an unprecedented risk to human rights which we have come to take for granted.

Speaking in an interview with Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), Miller insisted the sector has a unique role in the Brexit process as it has access to the communities that are the most vulnerable, disempowered and likely to suffer the most consequences.

It's certainly time to stand up and I would hope that the third sector does become involved," he said. "Evidence from around the world shows that the less equal a society it is, the less happy it is. That's why all of this really matters and I strongly encourage third sector organisations to find out how this will impact them."

Miller says there are a number of human rights and financial points to consider.

He said: "One is that there is a real risk of regression as powers are brought back from the EU to Westminster and then not devolved to Scotland.

"Secondly, the UK will become freer to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and the protections we have from the European Court of Human Rights.

"But the impact on the economy is linked to human rights as well.

"There will be an impact on the funding and the allocation of resources to the third sector and those that they serve - in terms of social security, wages, housing, health and education.

"It really is so imperative that all of us - including the third sector - explore what the impact will be."

He called on the sector to explore "the options we can take to avoid regression, not be left behind and continue to take a lead in shaping the kind of country we want to be and the values we want to underpin that."

Brexit: rights, risks and responsibilities

At the meeting held by the SHRC and the Jimmy Reid Foundation, 'Brexit: rights, risks and responsibilities: What's at stake for human rights in Scotland?', the organisations sought to share information and give supporters the opportunity to speak out and speak up about their concerns over Brexit, the process and the impact in Scotland.

The meeting was designed to share information on rights, on strategy, on action and on specific issues arising from Brexit including workers rights, equality, the environment and if rights could be better protected through a 'Scottish Bill of Rights'. The meeting heard a series of interesting presentations:

1. Mapping the work of the First Minister's Standing Council on Europe, reporting on the three meetings held so far on human rights and the STUC's ambitions for saving as well as extending workers rights;
2. Making clear that enforceable economic and social rights are primarily sourced via the EU and the quite separate Council of Europe Treaty 'The European Convention on Human Rights' gives everyone equal rights including the right to protest, the right to form an opinion and the right to join a trade union;
3. Defining the limits of EU law in the UK eg it cannot set a minimum wage, and the scope of EU law eg it adopts a broad definition of health and safety which includes the Working Time Directive;
4. Informing us of the likely impact on the environment by withdrawing from the EU framework;
5. Arguing that Brexit creates uncertainly and could become a distraction so our focus must be directed at what we do have control over and currently, there are a number of opportunities to extend workers rights in Scotland such as the development of a 'Business and Human Rights National Action Plan for Scotland'.
6. Civil society in Scotland has been working collaboratively with similar organisations across Europe to achieve reform in the way the EU operates so that it serves the people better, and it has no intention of withdrawing solidarity from a movement that still needs to thrive if it is to achieve social justice for all.