‘Shows serious non-commitment’ Brexit Britain told it risks EU sanctions with key change

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An attack on the Human Rights Act, which embedded the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, is due to be a part of Tuesday’s Queen Speech billed as an attempt for Brexit Britain to unravel itself from remaining European law. However, experts have argued that an attempt to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights could have a negative impact on the country internationally.

They argue it could force Britons to take cases to the ECHQ as they did before the introduction of the act, potentially facing ministers with the prospect of fines from the Strasbourg court, should the UK be found to be breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sue Willman, chair of the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee, told The Independent that attacking the HRA would give the impression that the UK is “arrogant” and leave the country with a “dwindling” international role.

She said: “It perpetuates the sense that the UK is arrogant and wants to go down its own individualistic track.

“In theory, a British Bill of Rights could be an opportunity to introduce new additional rights, such as the right to a healthy environment which is currently being debated by the Council of Europe.

“But there aren’t any proposals for additional rights in the proposals, just plans to erode the rights we already have.

“It will detract from our role as a perceived leader of international human rights, rule of law and democracy.

“We will end up with a dwindling international role by going off on our own course.”

The proposed British Bill of Rights is expected to announce that UK courts will no longer have to follow decisions made by the ECHR. 

This is despite the fact that future British commitment to the ECHR was guaranteed in the Brexit trade and cooperation deal with the EU in 2020.

Catherine Barnard Cambridge University professor of EU law warned that the move was “serious” and it showed “serious non commitment”.

She said: “If the bill goes as far as has been trailed…. It shows serious non-commitment to our obligations under that particular treaty.”

In a Changing Europe think tank, she said the UK wouldn’t have to pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is another option being considered by ministers. 

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Liberty director Martha Spurrier warned that the Government could put the Good Friday agreement in danger by assaulting the HRA.

She said: “There are all sorts of ramifications if you start to row back on rights protections.

“If the UK Government reneges on the Human Rights Act, that’s a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The devolution aspect will be very complex, because Scotland and Wales are moving in the direction of incorporating more rights, not fewer.

“Convention protections are linked into many trade treaties because countries demand equivalence on rights standards.

“Making rights conditional on good behaviour is toxic.

“People who the state deems to have behaved badly are precisely those people who are likely to be treated badly by the state, whether they are prisoners or protestors or people without citizenship.

“It creates a kind of impunity and it erodes the idea that rights are universal. For migrants in particular, rights become conditional on citizenship.”

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