22/02/2018 09:07 GMT | Updated 22/02/2018 10:39 GMT

Brexit Bill Will 'Significantly Reduce Human Rights Protections' Amnesty Report Warns

'The Government is planning to strip the British public of protections.'

Britain’s exit from the European Union will “significantly reduce human rights protections”, Amnesty International warned Thursday.

A rush to sign new trade deals, the charity said in its annual report, also “means there is a growing risk the UK will soft-pedal on human rights around the world” in its drive to become “Global Britain”.

Amnesty’s State Of The World’s Human Rights report singles out the Government’s “failure” to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in domestic law, “weakening the protections currently available to people in the UK”.

It added that the Brexit bill also loses people’s ability to bring a case founded on EU ’general principles”, which include protections such as the right to equality. 

Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Amnesty has warned that the EU Withdrawl Bill will 'significantly reduce human rights protections'

As an example of its fears around Britain softening its stance on global human rights to secure trade deals, Amnesty cited a report that appeared last month in China’s national newspaper, The Global Times.

The article praised Prime Minister Theresa May for “resisting radical pressure at home” to raise concerns over the treatment of democracy protesters in Hong Kong in efforts to focus on trade and investment links with the world’s second-largest economy.

Amnesty also highlighted recent UK trade delegations to Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and the USA that have shown an “unwillingness to speak publicly about human rights overseas”.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said: “You don’t have to be pro or anti-Brexit to see that without reform the EU Withdrawal Bill is set to substantially reduce rights in the UK.

“Under cover of Brexit, the Government is planning to strip the British public of protections - and people don’t even know their hard-won rights are under threat.”

Allen said Amnesty is concerned the UK is using Brexit to “justify a new ‘hard-nosed’ approach to trade which could mean soft-pedalling on human rights overseas”.

Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Amnesty accused Theresa May's Government of 'planning to strip the British public of protections'

“The UK needs to hold fast to the principles of fair trials, free speech and decent labour standards. We mustn’t trade away our values in our eagerness to sign new deals,” she said. 

In its report Amnesty was critical of world leaders for promoting “hate and division to further their own political ends” and suggested that in the 70th year since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights protections are “under serious global threat, with authoritarian leaders seeking to narrow or withdraw them”.

Activists and organisations working to promote and protect human rights also “came under attack at an unprecedented level” during 2017/2018 it said. 

Amnesty also urged the British Government to urgently introduce measures addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is to consult on mechanisms for investigating historic wrongdoing envisaged in the Stormont House Agreement between the main parties following the collapse of powersharing talks.

Amnesty said Northern Ireland had failed “dismally” to deal with past human rights violations, end “discrimination” on marriage equality and reform “outdated” abortion laws.

Northern Ireland campaigns manager Grainne Teggart said: “The collapse of the Stormont talks is no justification for the continuing denial of rights.

“The Secretary of State Karen Bradley must deliver on legacy issues, marriage equality and abortion reform.”

Brian Lawless/PA
Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International

She said conflict victims continue to suffer the consequences of political failure to properly address past human rights abuses.

“We welcome the Secretary of State’s comments that she will consult on implementation of bodies set out in the Stormont House Agreement and support reform of inquests.

“This must be done urgently and bring an end to the denial of truth and justice.”

“The rights of LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland to be treated equally should not be held to ransom by the absence of devolved government.”

A number of new agencies were agreed by political leaders under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

An Historical Investigations Unit would examine unsolved murders while an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval would help families to learn more about the fate of their loved ones.

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where same-sex couples cannot marry.

Bradley has said it is a devolved matter but the power of Westminster to legislate remains unaffected.

She added: “If this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government’s policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage.”

The DUP has argued in the past that people in same-sex relationships are free to enter civil partnerships but marriage is between a man and a woman.

Teggart said the UK Government must end “daily discrimination” against same-sex couples and introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity bringing Northern Ireland’s laws on marriage equality into line with the rest of the UK.

She added: “The rights of LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland to be treated equally should not be held to ransom by the absence of devolved government and a seemingly never-ending talks process that has so far failed to progress these issues. The UK Government can and must fix this.”