The UK must commit to social rights for its citizens after Brexit

The UK must commit to social rights for its citizens after Brexit

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Koldo Casla, Newcastle University

Regardless of what you think of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, you should consider this: the EU (Withdrawal) Bill currently passing through the British parliament puts some important social rights at risk.

Social rights are the right to health, education, an adequate standard of living (including food and adequate housing) and to social security. The UK has ratified a number of international social rights treaties, the most important of which is the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

International treaties are legally binding for countries that voluntarily sign and ratify them. The UK and 165 other countries have done so in the case of the ICESCR. However, the UK has not yet incorporated the ICESCR into its domestic legal system. As a result of that, social rights remain relevant in the political discourse but, by and large, legally toothless.

However, people living in the UK do enjoy a number of social rights as a result of the UK’s membership of the European Union.

British laws protecting workers from discrimination and protecting their maternity leave rights, for example, come from EU directives. The European Court of Justice has developed some of these rights on equal pay for equal work and equal access to state pensions. Workers are also entitled to compensation if their EU labour rights are breached.

Europe will no longer offer support to British citizens if the UK government infringes on its rights.

The UK supreme court drew on EU law when it insisted that employers have to give spouses in same-sex marriages the same pension rights as heterosexual couples. The same court also concluded that employment tribunal fees (charging people for taking action against their employers for unfair treatment) made access to justice practically impossible or excessively difficult for too many people, and that breached EU law as well. The High Court of England and Wales echoed the right to health recognised in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights when it ruled to keep plain packaging for cigarettes.

All these steps were directly or indirectly the result of the UK being an EU member state. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill puts many of these rights at risk. In its current form the bill will erase the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and all the protections that come with it. These protections will no longer apply to British citizens and other residents after Brexit day.

Seeking continuity

As the Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve recently argued in parliament, the problem of the EU
(Withdrawal) Bill is that equality or environmental policies, for example, will no longer enjoy the legal protection that EU membership gives them. British authorities will therefore be free to lower or indeed remove the standards that currently protect British people.

In response to this problem, the former High Court judge Michael Tugendhat has advocated that UK courts should have the power to ignore an act of parliament if it is contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU human rights principles.

And to avoid losing equality rights, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has said that courts should be able to declare that an act of parliament is contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Such a declaration would send a message to parliament that it should consider appealing or amending the offending act – though it would not be obliged to do so and could choose to do nothing at all.

A British tradition

Social rights have been part of Britain’s tradition for centuries and Brexit should not change that. This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, which limited landlords’ privileges, facilitated free men’s access to the common land and granted women’s rights that were revolutionary for the standards of the time. Britain is also the land of the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century and of the Putney Debates in 1647, the birthplace of Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill, the stronghold of the labour movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, the country of the NHS, the home of the council house.

The UK must match these historical milestones with a categorical legal and political commitment to social rights in the 21st century.

It is not an overstatement to claim that Brexit is a constitutional juncture of unique historical relevance. As Britons look for the future they want to live in, now more than ever they must take back control of their rights. Britain should bring social rights home by incorporating international human rights law into the national legal system.

Koldo Casla, Research Associate, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Britons’ fear of migration is not only anti-factual; it is also comparatively disproportionate

This article was published first in Left Foot Forward

cqk5itvwcauiysnI recently attended an event organised by the Foreign Policy Centre in partnership with the European Commission’s representation in the UK. The title could hardly be more topical: “Examining the EU’s democratic legitimacy”.

It really was about Brexit, like nearly every political debate in the UK for months if not years.

Hilary Benn delivered an eloquent keynote speech about the need of parliamentary oversight of the divorce process. After him, other articulate voices from both Chambers expressed their thoughts about the value of democracy, the history of Britain in Europe and the meaning of national and parliamentary sovereignty. Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP had at least one voice in the panel; so did UKIP with its only MP (to Nigel Farage’s eternal sorrow), Douglas Carswell.

Judging by the interventions during the Q&A, had the referendum been held only in that room, Britain would have never chosen to leave; in fact, Conservatives would probably be a marginal force.

“How did we get to this point?” An incredulous audience asked with different words and tones.

“It’s immigration, stupid!”. The recurrent hypothesis was unsurprisingly put forward by Mr Carswell. It went unchallenged. It sinks in. It stays. And it stains. Continue reading “Britons’ fear of migration is not only anti-factual; it is also comparatively disproportionate”

Months ago I called for a vote out. Why did you have to listen, Britain? Why???


Last February, I wrote a short piece praising British humour and weather, thanking London for hosting me and, yes, asking Brits to vote for Brexit. The text was full of irony, and I warned the reader that I would not do it if I were British. But, as a European citizen living in London, I did call for a vote out. And I regret it deeply now.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware my text didn’t make a difference on the 17+ million Brits who chose to leave the European Union yesterday. But I feel sorry anyway.

I feel sorry because last weeks I have added one more item to the long list of things I like from this country and its global capital.

I have discovered a European side to London and its British inhabitants that I had never seen before. Yes, most of my friends and London-based Facebook acquaintances are highly educated and sophisticated. And London is multicultural, multilingual and profoundly diverse. Unsurprisingly, it has gone 60/40 for Remain. England is an entirely different story. Still, one didn’t really see EU flags hanging out the window in London flats, and in common parlance locals used to refer to Europe in third person, as if the English Channel was not 20 mile long, as if Britain constituted its own continent. We may easily go back to that sooner than later, but somehow Brits and Londoners campaigning for Remain made me feel welcome in a way that I had never felt before.

Like most people, I was convinced Brexit was not going to happen. Hence I felt I could stand by my ironic and provocative “vote-out-if-you-dare”. And I believed (and still do) the EU had a lot to work on in terms of social rights protection and democratic accountability. So I didn’t want to line up behind Cameron and Osborne.

I felt welcome and confident with my predictions and convictions. So yesterday, when I put an “in” sticker on my t-shirt, I had to clarify to someone that it was “a critical in”. As if it made a difference.

If yesterday I felt welcome, confident and critical, today I feel sad, shocked and sorry.

We’ll have to resort to the trite keep-calm-and-carry-on. We need to live with the consequences. I say “we”, because I for one don’t intend to leave just yet. But I say “we” although I know that the burden will not be fairly shared among “us”. Disenfranchised English working people, many of whom voted out, will suffer the consequences of Brexit just as much they missed most of the benefits of being part of the EU. This strikes me as the most devastating outcome of this referendum.

There are other critical issues that Brits will have to face, of course. For example, the future of a Europhile Scotland outside the EU, the profound divide between London and the rest of England, or the generational gap between a Eurosceptic elderly and a younger generation that had envisioned their future as part of the European Union. That is gone now.

Other European countries will not be in a good mood, and EU institutions are unlikely to let the Tories regroup and trigger Article 50 TEU (the exit door from the EU) at their convenience: “Of course, Sir, we’ll wait until October for you. Anytime, really. Thank you very much for these lovely decades of charm”. England may see Scotland go, Northern Ireland join the Republic and Boris Johnson hold the keys of Number 10. And at this point it’s too early to tell if the meagre chances of having a socialist Labour opposition have just evaporated. After all, supposedly Jeremy Corbyn has also lost this referendum.

Recapitulating, Britain, I understand you couldn’t care less about my opinion, but I still want you to know that I regret urging you to vote out. If I had known, I would have kept quiet. To the 17+ million of you who voted out, I’m also sorry for bothering you with my presence in your country. For now, however, I don’t plan to do anything about that.

The postman just knocked on the door to hand me a parcel. “Thank you”, I say. “You’re welcome, my friend”. Well, at least, I have that.

Koldo Casla



Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.

This post was published first in Open Democracy.

London-Cable-Car-Emirates-Air-Line-1I have lived in England for nearly five years, mostly in London, but for personal reasons I have also become familiar with other parts of the country as well. I have always felt welcome here – for which I am grateful. I like England very much. I adore the preciseness of language, the humour, the diversity and buzz of the capital… I don’t even mind the weather! Ideally, I would like to stay for some time.

This is my caveat, which I believe to be necessary since I will argue that the European Union would be better off without the United Kingdom.

The UK has been part of the European Communities and then the EU for more than four decades. In the second half of this period it has enjoyed a special treatment granted by the other Member States. It did not adopt the Euro, it does not participate in Schengen, and it can pick and choose from within the areas of security, justice and police cooperation as it pleases. Even the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not fully applicable in the UK.

But, as is well known, David Cameron promised to get more leeway or leave. After intense talks behind closed doors, on 19 February the European Council discussed and agreed on a new settlement for the UK in the EU. Brits will be called to an in-or-out referendum scheduled for 23 June.

I say it is time to fly free – both for the UK and for the rest of the EU..

As a EU citizen (Spanish national) living in London, I urge you to vote for #Brexit. Continue reading “Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.”