The EU Withdrawal Bill and the Charter of Fundamental Rights: Committee Stage Debate, 21st November 2017

Date: 20th November 2017
Category: Other human rights treaties and mechanisms

Tomorrow MPs debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will decide the fate of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In its current form the Bill proposes abandoning the Charter despite "copying and pasting" the rest of EU law onto the UK statute book. Several amendments have been proposed which aim to save the Charter and it is these which shall form the core of tomorrow's debates.

Abandoning the Charter is very significant from a children's rights perspective. The Charter enhances rights that already exist in the ECHR such as the right to education. It also condenses rights enshrined in the UNCRC within one article. These UNCRC rights include the right to care and protection, the right to express views freely, the best interests principle and the right to know both parents. Children's rights enshrined in the Charter have been translated into practice through EU legislation, policy and case law.

The UK Government's position is that abandoning the Charter shall not adversely affect individual's rights. It argues that the rights contained in the Charter can all be found in other international treaties which the UK has ratified. However, the Charter goes beyond the rights in these treaties by including broader protections and other more 'novel' rights not found in other treaties. Whilst the UK Government is correct in stating that certain Charter rights are found in other treaties which the UK has ratified, the fact that no action has been taken to incorporate these treaties (including the UNCRC) means that they do not have direct effect in domestic law.

The UK Government has also argued that removing the Charter is insignificant as the 'underlying rights' upon which it is based shall be preserved. However, the effectiveness of these is weakened given that the Withdrawal Bill removes the right to challenge retained EU law on the basis that it is incompatible with the general principles of EU law (which includes fundamental rights). Accordingly, these underlying rights shall be a tool used for interpreting retained EU law but they will be unenforceable in UK courts.

Together has worked with partners across the UK to support the amendments proposed by Dominic Grieve MP. These amendments aim to preserve the Charter and ensure that, after Brexit, it will be possible to challenge retained EU law on the grounds that it is in breach of the general principles of EU law (including fundamental rights).

Together encourages its members to share our briefing and to email or tweet their MPs to encourage support for these amendments.