(Title Image: Amnesty International)
Yesterday afternoon, a debate took place on the joint findings of the Communities and External Affairs inquiry into equalities after Brexit.
Set the bar high
Communities Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said Wales should “continue to set the bar high….for protecting human rights and reducing inequalities”.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights includes rights that go beyond the Human Rights Act and the committees weren’t convinced EU Charter rights were protected in UK law. There were also concerns over the loss of EU funding towards addressing inequalities. He was disappointed with the Welsh Government’s suggestions:
“….another way of protecting human rights within Wales would be the incorporation of international human rights treaties into Welsh law. We note that, in responding to our recommendation calling for further consideration to this suggestion, the (Welsh) Government emphasises the Future Generations Act as the primary legislative framework for this. While acknowledging that, we would highlight that this Act does not provide for any legal challenge if rights are not being upheld….it is not one that can sufficiently ensure human rights protections.”
– Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM
David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) didn’t think the EU Charter was entirely relevant to protecting rights as it merely draws together existing rights in EU law; the European Convention on Human Rights (which is a separate document) was more important.
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) was under no illusions as to the motivations behind sections of the Leave campaign:
“Let’s make no mistake: despite the words we will hear later about remembering the sacrifice of those who fought the Nazis, these rights are under threat. It wasn’t the EU’s smooth arrangements for the transportation of medical isotopes that annoyed the wealthy people who funded UKIP and the ‘Leave’ campaign. It was the EU’s protections for workers’ rights, for women, minority rights and so on that really motivated them.”
– Leanne Wood AM
She underlined that rights in the UK aren’t guaranteed in a single constitutional Bill of Rights that would limit what the UK Government and UK Parliament can do. Leanne was disappointed that the Welsh Government’s response made obscure references to the Human Rights Act and the inclusion of UN declarations in some Welsh laws.
“I chair the Women in Europe Wales network to promote women’s rights and gender equality in the context of Brexit. The network is concerned that women should have a stronger voice in the Brexit inquiries and negotiations. These networks are looking at this debate today; they very much welcome it and will expect the committees of the Assembly, as well as the Welsh Government, to take this forward for further exploration and monitoring.”
– Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan)
Distinctive Approach to Equality
Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) – who also has responsibility for equalities – said the Welsh Government already had a “distinctive approach” which was “woven in the devolution mindset from the outset”.
“We’ve been very consistent in what we want to see by way of our priorities for leaving the EU and part of the Brexit talks, and one of those has been a fundamental maintenance of the human rights position for Welsh citizens and their place in the world. And, of course, that would also include a continuing commitment to ensure that no falling back happens as a result of our leaving the EU.”
Leader of the House, Julie James
She told AMs current uncertainty surrounding Brexit makes it difficult to specify courses of action. However, the Welsh Government have commissioned work to see how equalities and human rights can be (and already are) protected within existing Welsh laws. A report is due back in February 2019.
The Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said both committees would keep an eye on what happens during the Brexit transition period.