Podcast

Dr Katie Boyle is a constitutional lawyer specialising in human rights and a senior lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of Social Sciences. She has previously worked in Ireland and Scotland, and has also produced several reports and UN submissions for national human rights institutions.

As Britain starts planning for life outside the European Union, Katie joined the University of Roehampton podcast to discuss the potential implications for human rights. Here she outlines seven human rights issues raised by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

  1. Will the UK run parallel to the EU – or take a different direction?
    While Katie concedes that “EU law can be quite far-reaching”, recent developments – including an EU consultation on better protection for social rights – raise inevitable questions about the UK’s approach. “We are essentially sleepwalking into a new constitutional settlement and we have no idea of what kinds of rights will exist after leaving the European Union,” says Katie.

    She continues: “The direction in which the EU is moving seems to be towards better protection. So it’s almost as if the UK is on a different pathway, in a sense, to the rest of the EU.”
  2. Either way, the existing legal framework will likely need rebuilding
    After more than four decades in the EU, a complex legal situation has arisen over UK citizens’ fundamental rights. Katie believes that the recent judgement in the Miller case, which expressed concern about the potential loss of individual human rights and was brought by a private individual through the UK courts, suggests significant work lies ahead.

    Katie says: “The court came out to say, ‘At the end of the day, when we (the UK) indicate to the EU that we intend to withdraw, we will set in motion a process which will result in rights and remedies being irrevocably lost.’ What the court is telling us is… that when we leave the EU, we will lose all that we had in relation the existing framework.”
  3. And experts can’t agree on a path forward
    Will EU law take on any form of binding or persuasive authority in post-Brexit Britain? “We actually don’t know,” says Katie, “and many people disagree – even experts themselves don’t agree what kind of status EU law will have moving forward.

    “Some say it will be completely null and void and no longer apply. Others say, ‘well, you can’t lose what we’ve already acquired because it’s actually ingrained in the system as it exists’.”

    Arriving at a conclusion, one way or the other, is likely to require significant effort from the UK’s leading constitutional figures.
  4. Brexit offers Britain far more freedom on human rights – for good or bad
    The UK government has consistently promised to retain workers’ rights after Brexit has been implemented. However, Katie’s biggest concern is what could happen with future administrations.

    “What this government may promise to do, a future government may not,” she says. “When you start to dismantle existing rights and remedies without properly giving consideration about how to replace them, you can end up in a system where you incrementally corrode and lose rights. That’s where the sleepwalking analogy comes in – it could be a very slow process over a long period of time.”
  5. UK citizens voted for Brexit with their eyes open
    “People absolutely knew what they were voting for and it’s very patronising to say anything else,” says Katie.

    “When people voted for Brexit, they wanted the UK to exit the EU regardless of the consequences. It’s really important that we keep that at the forefront. However, you also need to take into account the fact that the majority was a very slim majority – and when you discuss human rights, you’re often talking about rights which may affect a minority of people.”
  6. Thought needs to be given to the future safeguards given to UK citizens
    In general, Katie believes the UK government has “traditionally been relatively progressive in many respects”. According to Katie the government now needs to find a way to prevent discrimination seeping back into legislation once the UK is outside EU regulations.

    “The state does quite well (in general), but sometimes it really messes up,” says Katie. “So, what kind of safeguards are we going to have in place? I’d rather increase them than get rid of them, and other people may feel completely different about that, but I’d much prefer – at the very least – that as a country we have a discussion about it.”
  7. There are two potential ways to resolve the issue
    Katie believes legislation needs to be passed, or rights will only be established through a succession of judgments made in courts across the UK.


    “Are we left to the whim of this development of common law through the judiciary, or should we say, ‘here’s a clear set of instructions, this is what we all agree, these are the rights to be protected’. That’s what it comes down to.”


About this podcast
The University of Roehampton Podcast is produced by the University of Roehampton in collaboration with Roehampton Online. Its thought-provoking approach aims to introduce listeners to researchers, authors and academic experts from the University.

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