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Economic and Social Rights

Volume 645: debated on Thursday 19 July 2018

3. Whether the Government plan to take steps to maintain economic and social rights as part of their negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (906537)

The White Paper published last week makes it clear that the Government are committed to high levels of social and employment protection and proposes a reciprocal non-regression requirement for domestic labour standards. The paper also proposes a mutual commitment to individual rights, noting that the UK will remain a party to the European convention on human rights after it has left the EU. This is also reflected in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which maintains existing rights protection as part of EU retained law.

I thank the Minister very much for her response. In 2009, the Secretary of State said that he did not believe in economic and social rights. How can he guarantee that he will not use Brexit as an excuse to slash protections for minorities and workers?

The Secretary of State is experienced and has a proven track record not only as a Justice Minister but as a lawyer, and any attempt to undermine his credentials and commitment to the rule of law, civil liberties and now delivering a successful Brexit is fundamentally misguided. The Government have made it clear—not just in the White Paper, but on numerous occasions during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act—that leaving the EU does not mean a diminution of human rights.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier to the mooted common rulebook as very narrow, but when we look at what is necessary for free circulation, it is actually extremely wide. I am concerned that the parliamentary lock in the White Paper is actually unworkable, because there will be the sword of Damocles of a hard border in Ireland should we derogate from any of it. Does my hon. Friend remember that decades of Conservative manifestos have committed to retaining or increasing our autonomy over such regulations?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I know what an indefatigable campaigner he is for the UK leaving the European Union, and his expertise on this issue is well known. At the end of the day, the common rulebook is going to be subject to a parliamentary lock, and it also reflects rules on goods that have not changed for many decades.

The Minister rightly points out that the White Paper proposes non-regression clauses on environment regulations and on social and employment protections. In 2016, however, the Secretary of State wrote in The Times that Brexit was an opportunity to



“100 most burdensome EU regulations”.

He took exception to the agency workers regulation, for example, on the grounds that it

“gives agency workers the right to the same basic employment and working conditions as full-time staff”.

Does the Minister agree with the White Paper or with her Secretary of State?

The Government have been clear in the White Paper that our commitment to rights protection is unequivocal and that how those rules are applied is ultimately a decision for Parliament. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that rights do not emanate from the EU? We have our own rich and proud tradition of civil liberties, such as the Race Relations Act 1965 or the Equal Pay Act 1970, and we acceded to those critical pieces of legislation before our accession to the European Economic Community.

I understand my hon. Friend’s position on guaranteeing UK rights—indeed, I respect her position, which is that UK rights need no foreign courts to guarantee them. Perhaps she can help me understand how she views the rights of others on our continent. The great achievement of many of our people in the past 50 years has been the extension of those rights, yet today I see lists of Jews being suggested in Vienna, and I hear about the erosion of the rule of law in other parts of eastern Europe. What will be the Government’s position on making sure that those human rights still exist?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said, we have a long and proud tradition, which predates our membership of the EU, to protecting civil liberties, upholding human rights and enhancing the position of the individual, whether through the rule of law or our commitment to the ECHR. Brexit will not change that.