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UK Won't Keep EU Human Rights Charter After Brexit, MPs Decide

British MPs have voted not to include the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit — by 317 votes to 299.  

The vote, held on Wednesday in the House of Commons, comes after months of discussion around whether or not the charter should be transferred to UK law when it leaves the EU. 

The key question was whether the human rights outlined in the charter — which address protections on the right to a private life, freedom of speech, and employment rights — were already covered within UK law. 

And the government has insisted on a number occasions that they are, and still will be after Brexit.

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A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union said that the charter “was never the source of rights in the UK — it simply reaffirmed rights that already existed in EU law.”

They added that it’s the government’s “intention not only to uphold equalities legislation after we have left the EU but to seek opportunities to enhance the protections we already have.”

The government faced a near-defeat on retaining the human rights charter in November last year.

But the potential defeat was averted when the government carried out a “right-by-right analysis” of how the rights included in the charter would still be guaranteed within the UK, reported the Independent

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The European Convention on Human Rights, for example — which isn’t as broad as the charter — is already part of UK law, thanks to the Human Rights Act. 

The reassurances were enough to convince potential Conservative rebels, as well as former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who has been an outspoken figure in the debate. 

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In parliamentary debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill on Tuesday, prior to the vote, Grieve said that not including the charter sends out “a really strange message” about the government’s approach to human rights.

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“I listen very carefully to what the prime minister says about modernising the Conservative Party, about giving it a broad appeal to younger people, about trying to ensure that we reflect current norms and standards in our country and give effect to them in the sorts of policies we develop,” Grieve said, encouraging the House of Lords to consider the issue in the next stage of the process. 

“And yet… it does seem to me that in simply batting this issue away and saying don’t worry, it’s all going to be perfectly alright, without even coming up with a plan for the future about possibly adding a bill of rights clause or rights clauses to the Human Rights Act, we’re sending out a really very strange message about our attitude on this side of the House to matters which I believe many people in this country now see as being rights of a fundamental character, particularly on issues like LGBT and things of that sort," he added.

Labour said the government analysis on how human rights would be protected in the UK after Brexit, which was published in December, was “woefully inadequate.” 

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“The document they released fails to provide any assurance that essential rights will be protected once we leave the EU,” shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told the Guardian earlier this month. “On the contrary, it takes rights from the charter and scatters them to their original sources: the polar opposite of effective human rights protection.”

He added: “This is not a party political issue. It is about the type of nation we want to be. Britain should be a proud advocate of human rights.” 

After Brexit, most existing EU law will be transferred to UK law, under the EU Withdrawal Bill. But Wednesday’s vote means the Charter of Fundamental Rights won’t be included in that transfer.

The withdrawal bill states: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.”

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