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By Helen Flynn, Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns

On 31 January 2020 the United Kingdom exited the European Union. This is already having an impact on the rights and equalities standards we enjoy, and it is important that we advocate to ensure more protections are not lost.

Three main ways in our exit from the EU will impact upon human rights and equality standards for people living in the UK are; through the potential removal of laws protecting human rights and equality originating in EU law and no longer implementing future EU laws domestically, the loss of the statutory footing of caselaw from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the loss of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. We’ve looked at each of these briefly here but check out our briefing for a more detailed analysis.

The Court of Justice of the European Union

The CJEU has been instrumental in driving forward domestic legislation in the many minority groups including women, children and young people, disabled people, workers, migrants and members of the LGBT+ community (see this report from the Human Rights Consortium).

As we noted in January 2021 in joint work with Equally Ours, the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 did include an amendment that UK courts and tribunals could ‘have regard to’ its case law, but that it will no longer be on a statutory footing.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

We also highlighted in January 2021 that our biggest loss of rights from Brexit is undoubtably the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter). The Charter reflects the indivisibility of civil, political, economic and social rights. Title V (Solidarity) for example provides protections for a number of ESC rights including collective bargaining and action (Article 28), fair and just working conditions (Article31), prohibition of child labour and protection of young people at work (Article 32), social security and social assistance (Article 34), and healthcare (Article 35).

Other EU legal measures

The right to work (Article 6) and the right to just and favourable conditions of work (Article 7) are key economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights and are clearly outlined in ICESCR.

Employment law directives at an EU level provide for issues important to achieving just and favourable conditions of work including, for example, health and safety in the workplace (see Directive 89/391/EEC and Directive 92/85/EEC).

In addition, we are already falling behind the EU in terms of protection for workers. An example of this is the Work-life Balance Directive, which will not be implemented in the UK. The directive introduces a set of legislative actions with aims including:

  • better supporting a work-life balance for parents and carers,
  • encouraging a more equal sharing of parental leave between men and women

The terms on which the UK left the European Union has resulted in a loss of rights and equalities standards for people in the UK, and further protections are at risk. However, it does not have to be this way. In the UK, parliament is supreme and so it has within its powers the ability to forge ahead and modernise our human rights and equality protections. Examples that it could do immediately would be to introduce Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 (the socio-economic duty) as Wales and Scotland have done, and  to look at ways to bring rights within ICESCR into domestic legislation and the Scottish Parliament is currently working towards. If we are rethinking the UK’s place in the world – this should include ways to remain a world leader in rights and equalities protections.