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EU Withdrawal: Protection of Human Rights

Volume 658: debated on Thursday 11 April 2019

4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the protection of human rights in the UK. (910348)

The United Kingdom has a long tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of fulfilling its international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the European Union does not change that.

The Scottish Government set out three principles for human rights protections after Brexit—non-regression from current EU rights, keeping pace with future EU rights developments, and continuing to demonstrate leadership in human rights. Does the Attorney General agree with those principles, and will he share them with his colleagues in Government?

I find myself in total agreement with what the hon. Lady has said. I will share them with my colleagues. We are not in any way going to permit our departure from the EU to detract from our firm and unshakeable commitment to human rights in this country and to the rule of law.

In that context, and given the December resolution of the House regarding publication of the Law Officers’ opinions, will my right hon. and learned Friend be good enough to tell the House whether his advice was sought on these vital matters of time extensions before critical decisions were taken, as required by the ministerial code? Will he publish that advice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. He knows that I am acutely conscious of his desire to have the maximum transparency upon the legal advice I give to the Government. He also knows that I am bound by a long-standing convention relating to Law Officers’ advice to disclose neither the fact nor the content of it. Within those constraints, I consider constantly to what extent I can make available to the House all the information it needs to take the important decisions that theses times require.

Whatever happens with regard to trade, the economy and so on, one of the most important elements in ensuring that we can still secure justice in this country is maintaining some form of extradition with other European Union countries. What will we do if the European arrest warrant is not available to us?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are committed to a close and special relationship with the EU in relation to security. The question of our participation in a system relating to European arrest warrants will be close to our hearts in the negotiations that are to follow. But if we were not able to avail ourselves of what it is in the interests of both sides to agree, of course we would fall back on the 1957 extradition legislation and its provisions, and the preparations are at an advanced stage, in conjunction with the possibility that still exists of there being no deal between us.

I hope it is not indecent to point out that yesterday’s European Council was a humiliation for the Prime Minister. At a time when everyone is crying out for more coppers and school budgets are under tremendous, genuine pressure, how does it make sense to spend £100 million of British taxpayers’ money electing 73 Members to the European Parliament to serve for a maximum of five months?

Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, in the context of his inquiry, with the protection of human rights.

Including electoral rights and possibly the rights of candidates. I feel sure that was implicit in the right hon. Gentleman’s inquiry. I am merely rendering it explicit for him.

To answer the question, as amended, I quite understand my right hon. Friend’s frustration. To the outsider, it does not look sensible for us to be holding European elections when the entire country is expecting us to move on, leave the European Union and fulfil the commitments of both major parties at the last general election. However, we are under a legal obligation to do so while we remain a member of the European Union. There is a single, simple answer to this question: let us ratify the withdrawal agreement and we are out.