Telegraph: Sucking up flabby Euro-rights law is not the point of Brexit independence

An article for The Telegraph by SUELLA FERNANDES AND JOHN PENROSE

We both voted in different ways in the referendum but, since June 2016, we’ve been united in trying to deliver the referendum decision. Whether you were a ‘remainer’ or a ‘leaver’ before, we’re all democrats above all; and that means finding – and delivering – the best possible Brexit for Britain.

The EU Withdrawal Bill should be spectacularly simple: when we leave the EU, all current EU law will become British law so life goes on as normal after Brexit. No cliff edges here. It ought to be a boring, technical exercise in legal copying and pasting. But there’s a danger it will be used as a Trojan horse, to thwart the referendum result by stealth.

The synthetic fuss over whether the date for Brexit should be in the Withdrawal Bill is a good example. The Article 50 process has already set the date anyway, and Parliament approved it with a whopping majority in February. What’s the problem?

The issue isn’t really the date: it’s the timing of a vote on the final deal that’s being negotiated with Brussels. If the deal isn’t agreed until the two-year Article 50 timetable is up (and whoever heard of an EU negotiation or summit finishing early, after all?) then the vote can only be ‘please choose between this deal or no deal at all’. But, if you want to torpedo Brexit, you want the vote to be ‘please choose between this deal or staying in the EU after all’. And that means being able to delay our leaving date, potentially indefinitely, while they send UK negotiators back to Brussels in an endless, fruitless and increasingly slow-paced search for better deal terms here, or a tweak there, until everyone just gives up and we never leave at all.

That’s not the only issue either. Next week we’re facing another wall of amendments trying to insert the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law after we leave the EU.

Human rights law has become a complicated business. Britain should be proud that we’re a founder member of the European Convention of Human Rights, drafted after the horrors of the Second World War. It enshrines basic, fundamental rights such as the right to life and to a fair trial, freedoms of expression and religion and the prohibition on torture, and is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights, which is nothing to do with the EU.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, on the other hand, is a much flabbier and more political creature, covering everything from biomedicine and eugenics to personal data and collective bargaining. 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. It was part of the EU Constitution which was rejected by the French and the Dutch in 2005. Then it was in the EU Lisbon Treaty which was rejected by the Irish in 2008. The Eurocrats finally got their way in 2009, but it had cross-party UK opposition from the start. Tony Blair said it shouldn’t ‘extend or expand UK law, particularly in the labour market or the social sphere’. David Cameron was equally robust, demanding ‘a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.’

So it seems odd, to put it politely, to put the EU Charter into UK law when we’ve opposed it for years, and when we’ve got the tried and tested European Convention to fall back on anyway. One of the main reasons for leaving the EU was to take back control of our own laws, so we don’t have to do what Brussels tells us if we think it’s wrong. And the Charter is wrong for Britain; both Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers have said so. So let’s not chicken out of one of our first opportunities to use the newly-won freedom that Brexit will give us. Let’s use it for good instead.

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