Guest blog: Will Brexit jeopardise the rule of law & human rights

1 March 2018

Attorney General

The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP

The UK's decision to leave the European Union prompts many questions. Some are very difficult to answer. Some are less so. For example, does the UK still intend to be at the forefront of building and participating in a strong international system based on international law? Has there been any change in attitude towards the rule of law among the British people and British politicians? Are we still committed to those principles on which our solid reputation is based: justice, fairness, transparency, legal certainty and respect for individual freedom and human rights? 

Asking these questions is understandable, given the historic significance of the process in which we are currently engaged; and given some of the wilder claims that have been made about what withdrawal from the EU means for the UK's future. However, I have no difficulty in providing an emphatic and clear answer: the decision to leave the EU has no bearing at all on the UK's commitment to the rule of law. Our commitment to the principles of the rule of law, and our determination to invest in and support the global international law system, is as strong now as it has always been. 

That commitment is firmly rooted in our institutions, our political culture and in our very society. As the Government's chief legal advisor I am in a position to witness this on a daily basis. The commitment among Ministers and officials to ensure that their actions comply with the law, and with the fundamental principles of the rule of law, is clear. Our national political culture is such that all politicians, whatever their particular party affiliation and personal beliefs, have a recognition of and profound respect for the law and for the fundamental principles of it. Politicians are in turn accountable to the public who share that same respect. The result is that the rule of law is entirely interwoven into the fabric of British society. 

At the international level, the UK retains its solid commitment to honour its international law obligations; and our record and reputation is such that we are trusted by the international community. Whatever differences have emerged between us and our EU partners in terms of what our future partnership should look like, they should have no doubt that we will honour the commitments that we assume in the same way that we have always implemented our obligations under EU law. 

The fact that a number of countries have expressed an interest in forming new trade agreements with the UK after exit reflects in no small part the reputation that we enjoy internationally as a reliable partner, and our actions after we leave will reinforce this. 

The UK remains firmly committed to the system of international courts and tribunals and I am proud of our record in this area. The UK has subjected itself voluntarily to the jurisdiction of various international tribunals. I am proud of the role that my predecessors and I have played in representing the UK in proceedings before a variety of such international tribunals. While we have not won every point in every case, I believe this personal investment demonstrates the commitment to international law of those who have done my job, which will continue in the future. 

Given the comment that there has been about what withdrawal from the EU will mean for the protection of human rights, I would also like to take this opportunity to provide firm reassurance. The UK's commitment to human rights is as strong as ever.  We have a long tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the EU does not, and could never, change this. 

Amid the uncertainty that leaving the EU inevitably brings our commitment to the rule of law remains unshakeable, being built on very solid foundations.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP, UK Attorney-General.