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Religious freedom a priority, peers told during Brexit debate

15 December 2017


Rainwashed: anti-Brexit protesters stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday

Rainwashed: anti-Brexit protesters stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday

DEFENDING the right to freedom of religion or belief is still a “high priority for the Government”, the Government’s justice spokesperson in the House of Lords, Lord Keen, has said.

Lord Keen told peers that human rights would “remain central to this Government’s vision of society” once the UK leaves the European Union.

During the House of Lords debate on Brexit, and human rights, on Human Rights Day on Tuesday of last week, Lord Keen said that the Prime Minister was committed to the key human right to freedom of religion or belief.

He quoted Mrs May’s assurance that the Government would “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.

Lord Keen insisted that the UK’s “departure from the European Union does not change our commitment to human rights, nor is there any reason why it should. . . The Government remain fully committed to ensuring that there are strong human-rights protections once we leave the European Union.”

In reaffirming the Government’s commitment to religious freedom, Lord Keen was responding to the crossbench peer Lord Alton, who had earlier spoken of the importance of human rights in determining “crimes by ISIS against Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities in Iraq and Syria as a genocide”.

Lord Alton said that human rights “should continue to be the bedrock of our country’s principled approach to the upholding of human rights, and that is why today’s debate is of such importance”.

The Shadow Attorney General, Baroness Chakrabarti, told peers that the Government had not proved that it had “a true commitment to human rights”. She went on: “In spite of repeated assurances that the withdrawal Bill will maintain the status quo, various rights and protections have been explicitly excluded, in particular the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the Government maintain creates no new rights.”

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will transfer all EU law into British law after Brexit, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not included. “It is simple,” Lady Chakrabarti said: “losing the charter means losing rights.”

The Government narrowly lost a vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening, meaning that Parliament is enabled to pass the eventual final Brexit deal in law, through enactment of Parliamentary statute. MPs voted 309 votes to 305, as Conservative rebels joined Labour and minority parties in approving Amendment 7.

Mrs May visited Brussels last Friday to complete the first phase of Brexit talks on divorce issues, allowing for negotiations to progress to transition and trade in the New Year. Negotiators will have until October 2018 to strike an outline agreement on trade and transition, which will set the course for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

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