Theresa May had appeared to have bounced back from the Article 50 Supreme Court case with the relatively smooth passing of the Brexit Bill through the House of Commons.
But her woes were clearly not at an end this week when she suffered defeat at the hands of the House of Lords. The peers voted 358 to 256 in favour of amending the Brexit Bill in order to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK – the amendment drawing support not only from Labour, Liberal, and Crossbench peers, but also 7 Conservative peers.
What’s the issue?
There are currently over 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. While we are part of the EU they are allowed to move and work freely in whichever Member State area they choose.
However, on leaving the EU the UK will no longer be obliged to permit free movement and there is no guarantee that they will be able to continue residing and working here. The open borders policy of the EU was one that came under particular attack from the Vote Leave Campaign; the fact that a post-Brexit UK would be able to establish its own immigration controls was a particular draw for many voters.
In the run-up to the referendum the Vote Leave Campaign itself did pledge that EU citizens already living in the UK would be allowed to stay; many government ministers, both before and after the referendum, have made also similar assurances. But the3million has called for a unilateral guarantee of EU citizens’ rights and stressed that assurances “do little to change the uncertain and bleak future faced by many of us in the wake of the referendum and forthcoming Brexit.”
Moreover, the government’s paper on ‘The process for withdrawing from the European Union’ has not made any such guarantees, but rather has emphasised that the rights of EU citizens will only be assured if a reciprocal agreement is reached for UK citizens living in the EU. There are estimated to be over 1 million UK citizens living in different countries across the EU.
These EU citizens living in the UK are therefore anxiously awaiting the verdict on what will happen to them once Article 50 is triggered.
What did the Lords say?
Despite a letter from Home Secretary Amber Rudd assuring peers that EU citizens would not be treated with “anything other than the utmost respect,” the suggestion from the government’s paper that their rights would be subject to a quid pro quo arrangement was met with strong criticism from the House of Lords. Liberal Democrat leader Lord Newby blasted Theresa May as “stubbornly determined to use EU citizens in the UK as bargaining chips” – a stance which the Lords have found “not acceptable.” Likewise Tory peer Lord Bowness explicitly warned the government not to “bargain with people.” The possibility that the government should wait for a reciprocal guarantee for these UK citizens was rejected by the Lords for the amendment.
What happens now?
The Bill will now return to the House of Commons where the MPs will vote whether to approve, reject or change the amendment. A similar amendment had already been proposed in the House of Commons, but was rejected by a majority of 42 MPs. Yet some remain hopeful that this amendment will be approved by the Commons. Lady Meacher, a crossbencher, appearing on BBC 4’s Today Programme, stated that she believed “30 Tories saying they will vote to support this amendment” and that it would be passed “on the basis of morality and principle.” Moreover, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has tweeted positively in response to the Lords’ amendment, suggesting that he may encourage Labour MPs to vote in favour. Nonetheless, May has remained resolute in her intentions to pass the Bill as soon as possible and trigger Article 50
The debate in the Commons will begin next week.
IN THE NEWS:
Sex education will now be compulsorily taught in schools. The government have decided to overhaul the guidance from 2000 on sex and relationship education for children, which Education Secretary Justine Greening admitted as being “increasingly outdated.” From September 2019, sex education will be compulsory for students in secondary school, and children will be taught about healthy adult relationships from the age of four. Labour MP Diana Johnson welcomed the reform, and the Chief Executive of Refuge Sandra Horley has lauded it as “a great first step towards a better and safer future for young people.” Yet concern has nonetheless been expressed over the government’s proposed policy to allow faith schools “to teach these subjects according to the tenets of their faith” and parents “to withdraw their child from sex education.” Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, has branded this aspect “disappointing,” and the Government’s policy statement itself notes that a blanket right for parents to withdraw their children from sex education is no longer consistent with UK case law, nor the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The draft regulations are expected to be published later this year, and the statutory guidance in early 2018.
Universities have been accused of infringing students’ free speech by cancelling events organised in light of Israel Apartheid Week to promote Palestinian rights. The University of Exeter cancelled the street theatre performance “Mock Checkpoint” (where students were to act as Israeli soldiers and Palestinians) for safety and security reasons, while the University of Central Lancashire prevented journalist Ben White and academics speaking at event they perceived to be as both anti-Semitic according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition and providing an imbalanced representation of viewpoints; an event at the University of London was also cancelled, although apparently because it had not been approved in time. The increased action from universities is likely in response to the wave of anti-Semitism at universities that has been reported in recent weeks. However, almost 250 academics, including human rights lawyer Professor Conor Gearty, have signed a letter addressing what they perceive as a conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and have thus attacked the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, “which can be and is being read as extending to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights, an entirely separate issue, as prima facie evidence of antisemitism.” The letter has condemned the cancellation of these events and branded it as a curtailment of free speech.
The Chinese government took a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book this week and branded western media reports over the torture of lawyer Xie Yang “fake news.” Yang, a civil rights attorney was arrested in July 2015 and claims he was subjected to violence and threats at the hands of interrogators until he wrote down a confession to his alleged crimes of subversion. Yang’s claims were published by a number of media outlets, and appear to be consistent with other reports of similar abuse suffered at the hands of the Chinese authorities. The Communist government’s official news agency Xinhua have dismissed the reports as “nothing but cleverly orchestrated lies” on its twitter and “essentially fake news” in its translated report. But MP Damian Collins has warned that we should be wary of the phrase “fake news,” which he claims is being bandied about by President Donald Trump to dismiss anything he doesn’t agree with. While fake news stories reportedly eclipsed genuine news stories during the presidential election, there is concern that it is being picked up as a convenient tagline for state authorities to cover up any misdemeanours.
IN THE COURTS:
P (AP) v Scottish Ministers: In a petition for judicial review a judge has ruled in the Scottish Court of Session that an automatic disclosure of a criminal conviction for a minor offence was an interference with the petitioner’s Article 8 right to respect for his private life under the ECHR. The petitioner was denied a job in a care home after the disclosure revealed that he had been given a criminal conviction before a Children’s Hearing of lewd and libidinous practices for an offence committed in 1987 when he was 14 years old. Lord Pentland ruled that the disclosure was disproportionate in the particular circumstances of the case, particularly given the petitioner’s good character, but also how long ago the offence was committed, its minor nature, and that it had been dealt with through the Children’s Hearing system and not by way of a criminal prosecution.
Talpis v Italy: the European Court of Human Rights has forced Italy to pay compensation to a victim of domestic violence for breaches of her Articles 2, 3 and 14 rights. The applicant, from Romania, married her husband AT and resided with him in Northern Italy. AT’s alcohol-fuelled violence towards his wife culminated with his attempted murder of his wife and his murder of his son who had tried to intervene. The Court held that Article 2 (right to life) had been violated on account of her attempted murder and her son’s murder; Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) had been violated on account of the authorities failure to intervene and protect the victim; and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) had been violated in conjunction with her Article 2 and Article 3 rights on account of the authorities’ failure to heed her reports.