British citizens risk being reduced to a second-class status by controversial Brexit legislation, the Bar Council has said.
The organisation, which represents barristers in England and Wales, insists that rather than bringing rights home from Brussels, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will abolish rights. The Bill, which transfers European law into UK law, will leave British citizens and businesses with less protection against the power of the state, the Bar Council said.
The body’s chairman, Andrew Langdon QC, said: “After exit day, UK citizens will find that domestic courts enforce the same laws as they do now, except that they may not be able to apply the underlying treaty provision.
“This could mean that where the rights of EU and UK citizens are interfered with by the same law, EU citizens would be able to challenge that law, but UK citizens would not. “It is a recipe for confusion. Rights are not being brought home, they are being abolished. This Bill sets up UK citizens for second-class status.
“The Bill will also give UK citizens less protection against the power of the state as they will no longer be able to challenge EU law brought into UK law on the basis of non-discrimination, proportionality, legal certainty or the right of defence. Instead, legal challenges will be limited to more restrictive English law grounds such as rationality.
“For example, in 2014 the Welsh government tried to give ten times as much farming aid to lowland farmers as hill farmers, but the move was abandoned when the hill farmers pointed out that the decision was discriminatory. That argument will not work after exit day.”
Mr Langdon said the move could have a detrimental impact on environmental law. He said: “By taking a ‘snap-shot’ of EU law and adopting it into UK statute, the Bill offers no mechanism for the UK to keep pace with international conventions and agreements. Our laws may quickly become out-of-date and that could put the UK in non-compliance with its international obligations.
“Without clarity as to how courts should approach future judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union there is a risk that different case law will emerge on the same legislation as European and UK courts may interpret them in different ways. This would inevitably create uncertainty and confusion for businesses which operate in both the UK and Europe.”
The Bar Council chairman also said the Bill could impact on Welsh devolution. “The Bill will give UK ministers the power to amend adopted legislation that falls within the devolved competence of the National Assembly, without being answerable to the Assembly or requiring that the Assembly pass a legislative consent motion.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The whole point of the repeal Bill, and the whole Brexit process, is, obviously, bringing laws and protections back so they are decided by our own parliament, and in the UK.
“And we have been very clear that in terms of protections on things like workers’ rights we will ensure that they are at least the same as at present.”