Theresa May under fire over plans to ditch European human rights laws after Brexit

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Prime Minister Theresa May greets European Council president Donald Tusk ahead of a meeting at Downing Street, London.

Ministers are under pressure over plans to ditch European human rights laws after Brexit following a grave warning that it could impact  future trade deals. 

Yahoo UK last night revealed the contents of a new 76 page legal opinion on the Government’s intention to remove the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights from UK law. 

It warns the move would lead to a ‘significant regression’ in human rights safeguards in the UK. 

The lawyers behind the report say the differences created between UK and EU law would represent a ‘significant’ non-tariff barrier to free trade and make security cooperation more difficult. 

The decision to drop the Charter as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill was contested by both Conservative and opposition MPs in the Commons last year. 

The report has now put the issue back on the political agenda. 

Labour MP Chris Leslie, who led the campaign at Westminster to keep the Charter, said ministers should ‘think again’ in light of the new warning. 

MP Chris Leslie led the campaign at Westminster to keep the Charter. (Getty) 

The former shadow Chancellor, who is a leading supporter of the Open Britain group, said: ‘Brexit will divide the rights of some European citizens from others, creating a wave of complexities and inequalities which will have wide social, economic and political implications for many years to come. 

‘There is a growing consensus from right across the political spectrum that insufficient attention has been paid to the consequences of the UK Government’s decision to ditch the Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

‘None of this was on the referendum ballot paper and everyone in the UK still has a right to demand ministers think again.’

The legal opinion commissioned by the European Parliament’s United Left group was launched this afternoon in London by Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson. 

Commenting on its findings, she said: ‘There is no doubt that Brexit will have a detrimental impact on human rights and in fact this report describes that impact as unprecedented.’

The legal opinion commissioned by the European Parliament’s United Left group was formally launched this afternoon in London by Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson. (Getty)

The Government insists their plan ‘will not affect the substantive rights from which individuals already benefit.’

They say many of the rights included in the Charter already exist in UK law or are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the UK will continue to be part of after Brexit. 

But the new report, which was commissioned from Doughty Street Chambers – the law firm headed by top human rights QC Geoffrey Robertson – says the prospect is ‘profoundly concerning.’

It highlights a number of freedoms in the Charter which will not continue to be protected and other areas of UK law which are “significantly weaker” than the Charter. They include:

– The right not to be discriminated against based on gender, sexuality or disability

– The rights of children

– The right to legal aid

– The right to the protection of personal data

– The right to health, environmental protection and social security

‘The process of Brexit will involve a fundamental shift in the UK’s constitutional arrangements for the protection of human rights,’ the report concludes. 

‘For most individuals living in the UK, including UK citizens and EU citizens, this is likely to involve a significant regression in respect of the protection of individual and fundamental human rights.’

As well as having consequences for individuals, the Government’s own plans for the UK’s future relationship with the EU could be affected, according to the legal opinion.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster (2R) and staff meet European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (3L) at the European Commission headquarters. (Getty)

It states: ‘A disparity in the degree of protection offered to fundamental human rights might operate as a substantive barrier to free trade.’

Any further move away from EU human rights standards would create ‘significant barriers to cooperation on policing, criminal justice and security,’ it says. 


And on Northern Ireland it warns a weakening of rights for Irish/UK dual citizens would both ‘endanger peace and stability’ and ‘undermine the UK’s credibility as a diplomatic partner.’

The report suggests that MEPs may want to push for a human rights clause to be included in any trade deal with the UK that would bind this and future Governments to certain standards.

Yahoo has approached the Department for Exiting the European Union for comment.