What does Brexit mean for human rights?

By Naomi McAuliffe originally published in the 2016 Autumn edition of Humanitie magazine.

As the Programme Director for Amnesty International Scotland, Naomi McAuliffe has a long track record of campaigning on human rights issues. Here she writes about the implications to human rights following the EU Referendum.

As the dust settles on one of the UK Government’s most significant shake-ups in recent years, it is hard for anyone to say with any degree of certainty what Brexit will mean for the UK or Scotland in particular. The ‘Leave’ vote and its ramifications are unprecedented for this country, the rest of the EU and the world and therefore it is even more important that we have an active, engaged public to help shape that future.

From Amnesty International’s perspective, our immediate and urgent concern is for the human rights situation in the UK and to ensure that leaving the EU does not mean leaving behind our legal and moral obligations.

Naomi McAuliffe

Naomi McAuliffe

As a first step, we have called on the Prime Minister to immediately guarantee that EU citizens currently in Scotland and throughout the UK are given the right to remain. People have built their lives in this country – they have jobs, homes, relationships, and children born here – they must be offered reassurances that their place here is secure. EU citizens living here must not be used as human bargaining chips, but recognised as valued members of our communities, workplaces and lives.

We have asked the PM to address the spike in hate crimes post-EU Referendum. While initial indications are that we have not witnessed any significant increase in such crimes in Scotland in the wake of Brexit, we must not become complacent.

According to statistics released in early June, there has been a rise in hate crime in Scotland over the last year and, as the process of the UK leaving the EU begins, we must stay vigilant against rhetoric advocating hate, and ensure Scotland continues to be a welcoming place to everyone regardless of their birthplace, faith, or economic status.

Amnesty has also asked for assurances that the devolved administrations will be fully involved in all EU negotiations. Whatever the future path of the UK, we want to see human rights protected throughout. Our rights are universal and inalienable. They do not depend on the UK’s constitutional arrangements and must be maintained and strengthened, regardless of any future change to our political structures.

One initial recommendation we have made to Mrs May is that she reconsiders the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the UK. Before the EU Referendum, plans to scrap the HRA were setting Holyrood and Westminster on a course towards conflict. While most people, regardless of their politics, would acknowledge that the UK currently feels like a divided and discontented place, to continue attempts to bring in another highly divisive and constitutionally contentious policy, would seem unwise.

And finally, despite the outcome of the EU Referendum and the result of the negotiations to exit the EU, we can guarantee this will not halt the flow of refugees and asylum seekers into Europe. The refugee crisis is not a European problem – it is a global one.

Brexit has not stopped the bombing in Syria. It has not cleared the camps in Calais. The UK still needs to play its role, and we look to the new Prime Minister to uphold our legal and moral obligations to help those who are desperately fleeing violence and persecution.


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