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Government must guarantee human rights standards in treaties post Brexit

12 March 2019

Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes report on Human Rights Protections in International Agreements. A new approach is needed so that the UK ensures high human rights standards in all international agreements made post-Brexit, says the report.

Report findings

The report concludes that the current system which is meant to ensure that Parliament has proper information about the human rights implications of proposed agreements is “not working.”

The Committee points to the fact that Parliament has not received adequate or timely information from Government about the potential human rights implications of international agreements being negotiated or those subject to CRaG scrutiny (The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010).

For example, the Committee were concerned to note that the Minister for Human Rights did not know what human rights protections were (or were not) in the UK-Israel Agreement which was announced by the Department for International Trade on February 18th simultaneously as the Minister gave evidence in front of the Committee.

Better approach to international agreements needed

The Committee says that there must be a new and better approach to international agreements so that the UK maintains its status as a champion of human rights.

The report proposes:

  1. Standard human rights protections should be included in all agreements.
  2. The Government must ensure that human rights expertise is embedded into the negotiating teams working on all international agreements.
  3. The Government must provide the UK Parliament's Human Rights Committee a human rights memorandum for all proposed international Agreements once there is a draft text.
  4. The Government must inform Parliament of all international agreements that it intends to negotiate and regularly report back to the Committee on implementation so human rights standards can be monitored. 
  5. Parliament's role must be strengthened in scrutinising these agreements to ensure high human rights standards.

Committee proposes to change Parliamentary rules

The report further raises concerns that Ministers are not aware of the human rights protections in international agreements being negotiated post-Brexit.

This was evident when the Committee challenged the Minister for Human Right's awareness of the ‘in principle' trade agreement with Israel during an evidence session on February 18. 

The Committee proposes a change to Parliamentary rules (known as Standing Orders) so that the Committee's remit covers "human rights relating to the UK's international obligations" as well as "human rights in the UK".

Human Rights should not be an ‘add-on' to any international trade agreement or treaty

Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“We were extremely concerned to hear that human rights are not part of the conversation when it comes to the bi-lateral free trade deals currently being negotiated by the Government.” 
The UK Government must not become the weak link for human rights when making international agreements as we prepare to leave the European Union.

Human Rights should not be an ‘add-on' to any international trade agreement or treaty, but be embedded from the outset, drawing from the right expertise to ensure the highest standards. Parliament's Human Rights Committee must be given the remit to check and challenge these agreements.”

Further information

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