UK NHRIs express concern to UN Human Rights Council on human rights impact of leaving the EU

Today the Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have issued a statement to the UN Human Rights Council highlighting our concerns about the retrogression of rights when the UK leaves the European Union (EU) and the need for active follow up on UN recommendations.

The joint statement marks the mid-term stage of the United Kingdom’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN - a process whereby states peer review their human rights records.

Further to the joint statement the Scottish Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the human rights impacts of a no-deal exit from the EU, based upon the UK Government’s own assessments. The recently disclosed ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ documents note that there are likely to be disruptions in the supply of food and essential medicines in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU.

The United Kingdom has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This places legal duties on the UK Government to provide minimum essential levels of rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living. Shortages and supply disruptions such as those described in the Operation Yellowhammer documents are likely to affect the availability, accessibility, adequacy and quality of food, health services and public health systems. For example,  it is estimated by the UK Government that 75% of medicines come to the UK through Dover and that there may be delays in supply of up to 6 months.

Commenting on the human rights implications of the evidence, Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said:

“Under international human rights law there is a strong presumption against States deliberately taking steps which impact negatively on rights such as the right to food, health or an adequate standard of living.

In the very limited circumstances under which such backward steps may be permissible, they must be shown to be lawful, proportionate, temporary, necessary, non-discriminatory and have a legitimate aim. Any decision by the UK Government to leave the EU which knowingly puts rights at risk without fully meeting these criteria would be deemed a breach of its obligations in international law.”