When Brexit was first announced this year, my initial concerns consisted of what will happen regarding EU laws with human rights and animal rights. I’ve already written a blog post on animal rights – mainly the recent EU animal testing policies, so it’s time for human rights to take to the stage.
Current EU law protects rights affecting millions of people in the UK, for example:
- employment rights
- economic and social rights
- equality and anti-discrimination protection in the UK (from European Court of Justice)
- protection of gender, disability, age, religion, nationality, sexual orientation
Brexit could have a huge impact on these human rights protections, and would be the first time that a significant legal protection of rights was removed from UK citizens. What concerns me most is that there is a risk that the UK government could weaken the anti-discrimination and employment rights protection in UK law. These laws were born from the EU legislation (the rights set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), and although many EU laws would remain, if the UK segregates itself completely from the EU (and consequently from jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice) the government would be able to adopt laws that weaken those human rights protections.
Scary, right? I’m British, but was born in Belgium (and moved back to London at 8 months old), so if I had stayed and obtained a Belgian passport, but moved back to London in my teens, for example, I could be in fear of my employment and human rights… Even though my family are of British heritage. This poses a very scary situation for those who have moved to the UK without British heritage, which although I can mildly relate to, cannot ever totally contemplate.
Of course, when it came to vote, I voted remain! I knew this would happen – I knew the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (which is so fantastic and fundamental for our nation) would come under strain if we left. Another scenario I could have predicted with a crystal ball was this rise in xenophobia – however, I had no idea it would be this bad. The increase in hate crimes since Brexit is absolutely terrifying! There was a 60% increase in hate crimes after the referendum compared to the year before (from the National Council of Police Chiefs), including reports of assaults and arson attacks towards EU citizens.
Since “What is Brexit” and “What is Britain” were popular Google searches during the referendum, it doesn’t surprise me that people are interpreting Theresa May’s words as an excuse to attack EU citizens, mainly those of non-British heritage. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) recommended that politicians choose their language and policy proposals carefully when it comes to political speeches, suggesting that
…public officials not only refrain from such [hate] speech but also formally reject hate speech and condemn the hateful ideas expressed so as to promote a culture of tolerance and respect.
When I heard that the government wants to require schools to record the country of birth and nationality of children, I thought this was a joke – a parody of racists – it wasn’t. It was also suggested that employers list their foreign workers and restricted entry to foreign students… these policy statements are very risky as they are conveying a message that the referendum result was a vote to rid the country of “foreigners”. I do believe that’s why the majority of Brexiters voted leave. And that’s scary because essentially, and genetically, I’m pretty sure none of us are actually British through-and-through…
The government now must make it clear what will affect EU citizens and their families as leaving the Council of Europe would significantly weaken human rights protection in the UK. It could weaken the court system in ways that would harm human rights protection across the Council of Europe region. That is scary. Something that makes me very proud to be British (and that never happens – for obvious reasons regarding association of Brexiters) is the amount of asylum seekers who start new lives here, such as members of the LGBT community who fear violence and even death in their country due to laws and a lack of human rights. Not just that, but most people I know have parents who fled their country to start a better life in the UK and have created a happy, successful, thriving life and home here. I don’t think that makes anyone less “British” – anyway, who are these racists and bigots to define “Britishness”?! We should all be forced to have DNA tests on “Who Do You Think You Are?” to shut everyone up (hey, I have French heritage!)