What Does the Brexit Repeal Bill Mean for Human Rights?

The UK has finally published the Repeal Bill, which spells out its plans to transition from Europe. But what will the bill mean for human rights?

What is the Repeal Bill?

When UK voters decided to leave the EU in last year’s advisory referendum, they signaled for the government to begin legal proceedings toward that ultimate goal. Article 50 served as a mechanism to begin the countdown to what is effectively a divorce from EU regulation and standards.

Another key part of this process, however, involves the UK deciding how to disentangle itself from EU laws — all while maintaining human rights standards and other key provisions in its domestic laws.

To do this, the UK’s Conservative government has been working on the Repeal Bill, formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, to set out a roadmap for post-Brexit Britain.

How does the Repeal Bill work?

Unsurprisingly, the major change outlined in the Bill is the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 which, at its core, was the mechanism that the UK enshrined as part of its ascent to EU membership. This legislation will be repealed “in its entirety”, according to the Act.

Another key facet of the legislation includes spelling out what this bill can and cannot do. For example, while the UK may be divorcing itself from some aspects of European oversight, it cannot break away from the international human rights standards that much of European law is built upon.

That means that the UK must still adhere to basic human rights standards — but how that will translate into law remains to be seen.

In addition, the Repeal Bill makes clear that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizens’ Rights, and Justice, “is not part of domestic law on or after exit day”.

The Conservative government intends to translate much of those provisions into domestic law. Still, the legislation states that “A court or tribunal need not have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court, another EU entity or the EU but may do so if it considers it appropriate to do so.”

The legislation also spells out that any retained EU law can later be modified or adjudicated to have a different application by the UK’s supreme court. In effect, this means that the laws retained by the UK may not have the same force in years to come.

What about human rights?

In terms of human rights law, the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights appears at first glance to make little difference, as the UK aims to translate much of the same legislation into its domestic framework. However, not everyone is convinced that the Repeal Bill will actually achieve this goal.

Emmy Gibbs of anti-trafficking charity ATLEU tells the Guardian:

Without the charter, our clients – who complained of unlawful discrimination and breach of working time regulations – would have been left without any remedy, because the UK’s state immunity law prevents them enforcing those rights in the employment tribunal.

And this isn’t the only gap that concerns campaigners.

Women’s rights groups have also warned that they see significant shortcomings in the bill. For example, gender equality advocates claim to find no substantial guarantees that the UK will not slowly erode anti-gender discrimination measures in the future.

Critics point out that the UK could, for example, create higher thresholds for sex discrimination claims that makes equality legislation unenforceable. Equal pay laws could also be weakened or even repealed entirely. Others point out that even if this is not the case, the bill needs to be amended to ensure clarity and create a firm charter.

Employers, too, might find themselves in hot water. As the Financial Times highlights, the bill’s wording that the UK courts can refer to European judgments if they deem it appropriate creates a difficult situation for businesses, who may not know whether they are in compliance with the law or could risk being sued.

But at this juncture, it isn’t even clear whether the bill will make it through Parliament. While Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opposition has insisted it will not attempt to block Brexit, it is likely to put up significant resistance on areas it deems unacceptable. More concerning for the Conservative government is that both the Scottish and Welsh governments have said they will not back this Repeal Bill without substantial reform.

So, as ever, Brexit appears to be a contentious issue — and one that is proving difficult for Theresa May’s weakened Conservative government to control.

Photo Credit: Duncan Hull/Flickr


Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reesonabout a year ago


Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reesonabout a year ago


Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reesonabout a year ago


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

One Heart i
Carl Rosenstock1 years ago


Margie F
Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Thank you

heather g
heather g1 years ago

For all those who voted to leave the EU, I'm sure you had no idea what the amount of work this would involve..

Ian T
Ian Thwaite1 years ago

Now that the British people have regained the sovereignty of their Parliament, it is entirely up to them as to what will happen in the future. The late Labour left-winger Tony Benn continually argued against the transfer of powers away from the UK Parliament towards undemocratic European Institutions. This position was also held by Corbyn until it became advantageous to him to drop a lifetime's opposition to the "European Project", a project of international capitalism, with all that this means for the exploitation of people, animals and the planet itself. Corbyn was first elected in 1983. This is what the Labour Manifesto of that year ("The New Hope for Britain") said: "The next Labour Government, committed to radical, socialist policies for reviving the British economy, is bound to find continued membership a most serious obstacle to the fulfillment of those policies. In particular the rules of the Treaty of Rome are bound to conflict with our strategy for economic growth and full employment..." (page 33); "For all these reasons, British withdrawal from the Community is the right policy for Britain..." (page 33); and "... we will introduce a Repeal Bill: first, in order to amend the 1972 European Communities Act, ending the powers of the Community in the UK; and second, to provide the necessary powers to repeal the 1972 Act, when negotiations on withdrawal are completed" (page 34).
You couldn't make it up. And I haven't.

Ben O
Ben O1 years ago

I wonder if anyone knows...?

Lorraine Andersen

thanks for sharing