UK Government backs down on EU human rights to stave off Tory rebellion

Written by Nicholas Mairs and Tom Freeman on 22 November 2017 in News

Minister accused of a "charade" after seeing off a rebellion over human rights in the EU Withdrawal Bill

Robert Buckland - PA

Ministers have been forced to back down on scrapping some EU human rights measures from UK law after fearing a Conservative rebellion.

The UK Government had said they would ditch the so-called Francovich rules that allow individuals and companies to sue the state for breaching retained EU laws after Britain quits the EU.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC accused ministers of a "charade" after backbenchers withdrew a amendment to protect the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.


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A Labour amendment on the subject was also defeated.

However ministers have now vowed to work with backbencher Dominic Grieve over the amendments he tabled on the issue, over fears they may lose the vote.

The vow prompted Mr Grieve to ditch his bid for a vote last night as MPs continued to debate the committee stage of the withdrawal bill – which is set to transpose EU law into UK law following Brexit.

Solicitor general, Robert Buckland said ministers would work with the former attorney general to see how rights under the charter could be kept after Brexit – pledging its own amendment in the next stage of the bill.

And he said he recognised the “strength of views” from some of his colleagues.

“We’re listening, and we are prepared to look again at this issue to make sure that we are taking an approach that can command the support of this house,” Buckland told MPs.

In a swipe at some of the more hard line pro-Brexit colleagues, Grieve said the Government should appreciate that “on the whole, western democracies have tended in that time to develop the idea of rights” and that the issue “would not go away”.

“I know that for some members that appears to be anathema – it makes them choke over the cornflakes – but it is a development that I have always welcomed and that, it seems to me, has delivered substantial benefits for all members of our society, particularly the most vulnerable,” he said.

He added: “If we do not seek to act on it, the idea of a modern Conservative party starts to fray at the edges, and I do not wish my party to gain a reputation for ignoring these key issues.”

Cherry said: “Why take away from ordinary British citizens and business people the right to sue to enforce their rights and to realise damages if their rights have been breached? Why do that unless it is part of a wider agenda— one bigger than Brexit —that is about rolling the United Kingdom back from its adherence to international human rights norms? The Government need to think carefully about the message they are sending out.

“The UK government must listen to the overwhelming legal advice which has warned against failing to incorporate the Charter with the rest of retained EU law, and warned that the repeated reluctance of successive UK governments to fully incorporate UN human rights treaties, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law, show that the UK government cannot be trusted to protect citizens’ rights."

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