President Emmanuel Macron’s offer for the UK to host the Bayeux Tapestry alongside strengthening Anglo-French defence and military cooperation and extracting extra payments from the UK for security on the border of Calais (to prevent further refugee camps and another humanitarian crisis) is the type of joined-up thinking that delivers on French interests, strategically, on the international stage.
This stands in stark contrast to the UK government’s rudderless handling of the Brexit negotiations. The blue passport saga is a classic example of an inward-facing nation that does not recognise that the world doesn’t revolve around us - the opposite of smart use of cultural capital. More importantly than this, Theresa May’s ongoing failure to recognise there is a European consensus on the entwined nature of trade and human rights on the continent, risks lessening our standing in the world.
The UK government’s attempt to argue for a Brexit deal on a sector by sector basis will mean full alignment, or being rule-takers, on EU regulations in sectors of the economy that depend on the European Economic Area such as agricultural produce, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, aviation and automobiles. It would also include retaining UK membership, whilst losing rule-making powers, in some key EU regulatory bodies such as aviation, energy and telecommunications.
The EU27, in turn, will insist on the indivisibility of the four freedoms of the Single Market (goods, services, capital and labour) which would mean the UK would still have to accept freedom of movement of workers and significant monetary contributions, as Switzerland currently does. After sizeable European political upheaval, the question will remain as to whether this muddled economic arrangement is an EU Referendum 2016-compliant control of our laws, money and borders?
Eurosceptic Conservatives who are losing arguments on the economic terms are pursuing a warped agenda on political sovereignty by abandoning European standards on human rights. One step on this path of rolling back rights was laid on Tuesday, when a Labour amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill on maintaining EU law standards of human rights (also known as the Charter of Fundamental Rights) was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons, despite the efforts of Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MPs and prominent Conservatives such as Kenneth Clarke.
The Department of Exiting the European Union (‘DExEU’) has also been worryingly unclear on the future of people’s rights and liberties. A DExEU spokesman claimed that, “the charter of fundamental rights was never the source of rights in the UK – it simply reaffirmed rights that already existed in EU law” whilst at the same time the DExEU Under Secretary contradicted this by saying, “lawyers will love the extra layers of rights and the fees that they bring, and it’s also a core part of the Brussels project too.”
89up warned, in our report last year, of “the potential deleterious impact on equality, data protection, environmental protection, access to justice and working conditions by a poorly scrutinised Brexit.” Academics at the Oxford University Human Rights Hub have further stated that “the attempt to exclude the Charter creates numerous anomalies and complexities, seriously undermining legal certainty and risking a diminution in rights.”
The EU has been rightly recognised as having achieved a positive effect on the human rights of states that have wished to join it. Countries from central and eastern Europe were all required to increase their human rights framework in order to become members of the EU. By combining trade and rights and creating a conditionality of respect for human rights, within the economic bloc, the EU has been a rare example of progressing rights through economic incentives and without finger wagging at the level of international forums.
The Brexit battle to prevent the divergence of rights from trade goes on. For now, in the UK, this will mean our constitutional settlement will be stress-tested as it falls upon the House of Lords to defend the UK’s civil liberties. In an unexpected quirk, it seems it will be unelected peers defending the pan-European collaboration on rights across national borders. They will do this in full knowledge that the undermining of legal certainty on rights is an arrow in the eye of good governance.
Britain’s intrinsic ties with Europe go back centuries - it is worth mentioning if you are ever debating the colour of the UK passport, that the motto Dieu et mon Droit, would likely be different if it was not for the events depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Theresa May’s Brexit approach is ignoring the intrinsic ties of our European neighbours on the economy and human rights.