EU referendum: We will be a strong independent voice in the conversation on people’s rights

by David Isaac

Published: 27 Jun 2016

The result of last week’s referendum has underlined just how polarised the views in different parts of Great Britain are on our relationship with Europe.

We respect the views borne out in the democratic process and the decision taken. Migration has brought huge economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK, but we also recognise that some people have concerns about the impact of immigration.

There will be a period of national uncertainty – politically, economically and constitutionally – and the long-term impact will not be clear for many months.

Our role in championing equality and human rights will be critical in the months ahead as the Government makes decisions and negotiates any new settlement with Europe as part of leaving the EU.

It is important to remember that Britain is fortunate to have implemented in law a strong equality and human rights framework and that our human rights position, under the Human Rights Act and as a signatory to UN treaties, is unaffected by the result.

But there is clearly no room for complacency. During the course of the campaign, many people highlighted how European legislation has improved rights for disabled people and workers, as well as other groups.

There are also big constitutional questions about what our future relationship might be with European Courts and the role they play as part of our system of justice.

The Commission will continue to be a strong, independent and robust voice in protecting rights in the months ahead and in influencing this debate.

To help us ensure we do that, I have commissioned our Executive Director for Strategy and Policy to examine the potential legal and constitutional issues that relate to equality and human rights that we will need to consider in the months ahead as the implications of the Brexit vote become more widely understood. We will also set out recommendations for the position we will take to maximise our influence on the debate.

It is essential we don’t see a weakening of the rights and protections that we all enjoy in the UK and that help make our country fairer. We will be an unswervingly independent voice in this national conversation as the detail is worked through in the months and years ahead.

The referendum has also thrown up wider issues connected to political engagement and participation, immigration and community cohesion, and these are all relevant to priorities within our Strategic Plan.

We will play a full part in these debates and we will keep you fully informed of our work.

In terms of the referendum debate, robust and vigorous argument is an important part of British democracy and nobody wants to see our freedom of speech weakened.

While I welcome the high turnout for the referendum, I believe there are wider questions about politicians’ engagement with the public. The referendum should have been a chance to energise and engage people in our democracy. Unfortunately, there have been accusations of exaggeration and distortion. All of that damages our trust in politics.

Politicians of all parties now need to take a long hard look at what has happened. There is a need to heal the country, rebuild trust in political engagement and bring the country together.