UK Citizens Set For ‘Second Class Status’
Barristers have warned that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill’s approach to ‘bringing rights home’ is a recipe for confusion and puts the rights of UK citizens at risk.
The Bill adopts EU law in to UK statute, but the legal status of a number of corresponding rights that come from treaties is still unclear and that could place UK citizens and businesses at a disadvantage compared with those in the EU, the Bar Council has said.
Chair of the Bar Andrew Langdon QC said: “After exit day, UK citizens will find that domestic courts enforce the same laws as they do now, except that they may not be able to apply the underlying treaty provision. This could mean that where the rights of EU and UK citizens are interfered with by the same law, EU citizens would be able to challenge that law, but UK citizens would not.
“It is a recipe for confusion. Far from bringing rights home, this Bill sets up UK citizens for second class status.
“The Bill will also give UK citizens less protection against the power of the state as they will no longer be able to challenge EU law brought into UK law on the basis of non-discrimination, proportionality, legal certainty or the right of defence. Instead, legal challenges will be limited to more restrictive English law grounds such as rationality.
“For example, in 2014 the Welsh Government tried to give ten times as much farming aid to lowland farmers as hill farmers, but the move was abandoned when the hill farmers pointed out that the decision was discriminatory. That argument will not work after exit day.”
On the Bill’s impact on UK environmental law, Andrew Langdon QC said: “By taking a ‘snap-shot’ of EU law and adopting it into UK statute, the Bill offers no mechanism for the UK to keep pace with international conventions and agreements. Our laws may quickly become out-of-date and that could put the UK in non-compliance with its international obligations.
“Without clarity as to how courts should approach future judgments of the CJEU, there is a risk that different case law will emerge on the same legislation as European and UK courts may interpret them in different ways. This would inevitably create uncertainty and confusion for businesses which operate in both the UK and Europe.”
On the impact of the Bill on devolution and the National Assembly for Wales, Andrew Langdon QC said: “The Bill will give UK ministers the power to amend adopted legislation that falls within the devolved competence of the National Assembly, without being answerable to the Assembly or requiring that the Assembly pass a legislative consent motion.
“A number of the Bill’s provisions give ministers in Westminster powers which, if exercised, could undermine the Sewel Convention and threaten the stability of our devolved constitutional arrangements and the legitimacy of the Welsh Assembly.”
(Source: The Bar Council)