I went to the Labour Campaign for Human Rights meeting in the Commons yesterday, the keynote speaker was Kier Starmer, the Labour Brexit spokesman. He opened his speech stating he had voetd “Remain” based on jobs and rights and woke up on 27th June asking what world we live in. He argued that now we needed to accept democracy and that UK’s politics is about the new relationship with the EU. He argues we need to re-root our rights in UK law! (What like the Human Rights Act?) Labour is proposing a new Law to transcribe the EU’s rights and protections into UK law, but under the Tories this will be weak since the Tories are not planning to bring the “Fundamental Charter of Rights” across into UK law.

He also raised in response to a question, I think, some nuance around immigration. He talked of the four classes of incomers, refugees, economic migrants, family members and students. He wrongly stated that we have no law on economic migrants; we have a lot. He rightly stated that the country needs to deal with the four classes with different rules, even if we use the same levels of compassion. I had not seen family members as separate class on entrants, but of course they are … once upon a time you could acquire British nationality through marriage. It’s good that Labour front benchers now have the courage to talk about this and he stated that he wouldn’t put a target in the manifesto, or as a policy goal if in government.

Shona Jolly, Vice Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee also spoke. She was most concerned about losing rights, in particular, the right of equality. It seems that while the “Right of Equality” is part of the “Fundamental Charter of Rights”, it’s only an addendum to the ECHR and one the UK has shamefully not ratified. Anyway, while May’s Tories are in government, the Human Rights Act is in jeopardy as UK Law. Jolly pointed out that we are likely to lose our basic law; we’ll lose access to a court that doesn’t respect parliamentary sovereignty because its jurisprudence is based on a republican view of citizenship and citizen’s rights. In their view, the Government, the State always loses against the people, even a tiny minority of people.

In Starmer’s case, he has a difficult call now that he has to pretend he might be in Government, is arguing for a soft Brexit and while I accept that Brexit must be negotiated in good faith, I also believe that the Government should ask if the deal is what was wanted. I think there was a case for keeping the old parliament in place to negotiate the Brexit deal; they broke it, they should fix it. I am not happy shrugging my shoulders and saying they won, that’s it.

The Brexiters lied and cheated. The lies are well documented and rejected by themselves within three days. It’s now coming out that they may have broken the PPERA, possibly in terms of a receipt of foreign money, possibly by spending too much, and possibly by obfuscating i.e. hiding some large donations. They gerrymandered the electorate, excluding young people, excluding ex-pats of longer than 15 years absence[1] and excluding EU citizen residents[2].

If I’d been called to speak I’d have said something like, in order to win and defend the guarantees on jobs and rights, we need the Fundamental Charter of Rights and the ECJ.  Any other promise, is a promise by a parliament which can change its mind. Parliamentary sovereignty[3] is past its sell-by date. We need a democracy based on the rule of law, with a basic law or Constitution. One of its weaknesses is first past the post.

While I quite like Starmer’s six tests, particularly No. 2, ‘Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?’ since why would anyone vote for losing the right to set the rules?, Starmer’s position is that we need to leave the EU. I ask him and his (position’s) supporters in the PLP, “where do you get your mandate?” The Labour Conference position is that we develop non-negotiable positions around employment rights and migrant’s rights and should the Brexit deal not meet them, we demand a second mandate.


[1] Two of the basic Human Rights are the right to have a State, and the right to be consulted in its government. In the EHCR, this is expressed as a right to free and fair elections.

[2] While it has been long term practice to deny EU citizens the right to vote for MPs, Article 16 implies they should not be politically restricted and given the large number of foreign citizens that get the vote, this could be yet another ground to challenge the referendum on.

[3] One of its weaknesses is first past the post, we have a majority government pursuing an extreme constitutional agenda with a mandate of 37% of the voting electorate.

Parliamentary Sovereignty’s best sell by date
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