London, UK: The UK Government has suffered another embarrassing defeat on its flagship Brexit bill in the House of Lords after peers voted to keep a key EU human rights charter as part of British law.

Peers backed a cross-party amendment in favor of retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights by a majority of 71, with 316 supporting the motion and 245 opposing it. It is the third major defeat the government has suffered on its EU Withdrawal Bill in less than a week. The bill will transfer almost all European statutes into UK law when Britain leaves the EU, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights is one of a handful of pieces of legislation that will not be retained.

Last week, peers voted for amendments to try to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU, and enshrine workers rights after Brexit.

A packed House of Lords. Picture courtesy- The Daily Mail

The latest defeat could force the government to soften its stance when the bill returns to the House of Commons. Ministers have insisted retaining the Charter of Fundamental Rights is unnecessary and that the protections it offers will be included elsewhere.

But a number of peers, including several Tory rebels, criticised these claims. Lord Pannick, a crossbencher who co-sponsored the amendment, said excluding the charter from UK law after Brexit would be a “recipe for confusion”.

“I fear the government is seeking to make an exception for rights under the charter because the government is suspicious of the very concept of fundamental rights,” he said.

“This bill should not be used as an excuse to reduce the legal rights which we all enjoy against the state.”

Saying there had been “no coherent defense of the government’s position”, he added: “The exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from this bill is unprincipled and unjustified.”

The Charter of Fundamental Rights contains a wide range of protections, including the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights governing how workers are treated. It is broader than the European Convention on Human Rights, which is already part of UK law through the Human Rights Act.

Human rights campaigners also welcomed the defeat. Martha Spurrier, director of the charity Liberty, said: “This is a huge victory for human rights and common sense. The Lords have sent a clear message to the government: you can’t use Brexit to take away people’s rights.

“Singling out the charter as the only law ministers refused to bring home from the EU was a cynically politicised move built on hostility to laws that protect us all from abuses of power. It’s time the government provided the certainty our country needs and brought home all our hard-won rights.”


News Courtesy: The Independent

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