Today saw the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech, which set out the Government’s agenda for the next session.
As anticipated, a proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and replace it with a British Bill of Rights was unveiled. This proposal is very worrying for several reasons, and we are one of many organisations to raise concerns.
The HRA is a significant piece of legislation that has protected the rights of people, including refugees and those seeking asylum in the UK, for many years. One such way is the right to family and private life, known as an Article 8 right, (this comes from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which is part of UK law through the Human Rights Act). This is so important because so many refugees are separated from loved ones during the mayhem and struggle of fleeing a conflict zone, and it is vital they have the right to be reunited with them later on. Our concern is that this important mechanism of support for people will be less secure under a British Bill of Rights, and that families torn apart by war will therefore be kept apart indefinitely.
We share the concerns of many that the Government has not justified why the HRA should be replaced with a British Bill of Rights. We would also highlight that there will be a general weakening of people seeking asylum’s rights to make legal challenges on issues that have a huge impact on them, such as those relating to deportations and detention.
We remain disappointed and concerned by this Government’s failure to introduce safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum, despite their promises to do so. Safe routes are vital to ensure people do not feel forced to make desperate, life-threatening journeys and are an important way in which this government could be working to uphold our commitment to refugee protection.
Responding to the proposals outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“This Government has repeatedly promised to offer safe routes for people seeking asylum, yet it is deeply disappointing that they have missed a key moment in the parliamentary calendar to legislate for exactly that. Without safe routes, people fleeing war and persecution have no alternative but to put themselves in the hands of people smugglers and make life-threatening journeys across the Channel to find safety, which is already getting worse with the arrival of the warm weather.
“We, like so many, are deeply concerned about the justification to repeal the Human Rights Act, which threatens to weaken the rights of many of the most vulnerable in society, including men, women and children who are simply trying to find safety in this country due to war, bloodshed and persecution raging in their countries.”