Many commentators have expressed concern that the process of Brexit could have a negative impact on human rights protection in the United Kingdom. In contrast, others have argued that leaving the European Union offers an opportunity for the United Kingdom to develop better standards of rights protection than currently exist in UK or EU law, or at least standards that better reflect popular views in Britain about what qualifies as a human right. To assess the merit of these competing claims, it is necessary to consider whether Brexit creates a real risk that existing human rights standards may be eroded. In answering that question, it is clear that Brexit creates a risk that important EU legal standards that help to protect rights in areas such as personal privacy, workers’ rights and non-discrimination will be diluted, amended or even repealed over time. Furthermore, migrants and other vulnerable groups are most at risk from any such erosion of existing standards. This risk may never materialize. However, care needs to be taken that Brexit will not lead to a diluted respect for human rights. Human rights activists, and indeed anyone concerned with the protection of civil liberties and fundamental rights within UK law and policy, will need to be vigilant in the post-Brexit era.

Part of Series

Brexit: The International Legal Implications is a series examining the political, economic, social and legal storm that was unleashed by the United Kingdom’s June 2016 referendum and the government’s response to it. After decades of strengthening European integration and independence, the giving of notice under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union forces the UK government and the European Union to address the complex challenge of unravelling the many threads that bind them, and to chart a new course of separation and autonomy. Brexit necessitates a deep understanding of its international law implications on both sides of the English Channel, in order to chart the stormy seas of negotiating and advancing beyond separation. The paper series features international law practitioners and academics from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Europe, explaining the challenges that need to be addressed in the diverse fields of trade, financial services, insolvency, intellectual property, environment and human rights.
  • Colm O’Cinneide is a professor of constitutional and human rights law at University College London (UCL). A graduate of University College Cork, the University of Edinburgh and King’s Inns in Dublin, he was called to the Irish Bar in 1997 and went on to work as a legal adviser in the UK House of Lords before joining UCL in 2001.