February 15, 2017 : Craig Wilson

Human Rights expert encourages third sector call to arms on Brexit

Civil society can play a huge and unique role

Following the EU referendum result, SCVO has been consulting its members about their concerns. We were shocked to learn in our recent survey that 80% feel leaving the EU will have a negative impact on human rights and equalities. With that in mind we spoke to Professor Alan Miller, an expert in international human rights law who sits as a member of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe.

As you can hear in our podcast, Professor Miller believes the third sector should take a stand in defence of human rights. He notes how the EU has played “a very influential role in stabilising peace, reducing conflict in Europe, and promoting a shared sense and framework of values, human rights and solidarity”. These are, of course, key values for our sector.

Following the election of President Trump, Professor Miller suggests that the EU may now play a greater leadership role in terms of promoting values, rights and the rule of law within the international community, adding, “People in the EU are telling me that, following the UK’s exit, it might actually be easier for the EU to fulfil that role.”

As the EU attempts to manage Brexit, Eurozone concerns and the migrant crisis, Professor Miller believes that human rights need to have continuing prominence among EU policy makers. Despite the failings of the EU and some member states in fulfilling their obligations to protect and resettle asylum seekers, he suggests that “the EU will take an increasingly robust stance in defence of the values it sees as necessary in today’s very uncertain times.”

Professor Miller has been scathing about the UK Government’s adherence to human rights. Asked about the risks Brexit poses to human rights as powers are repatriated to the UK he is unequivocal: “There’s a real risk … once EU guarantees of rights are removed, will there be the same guarantees from Westminster, given the prevailing political culture there? I very much doubt that.”

Professor Miller outlined the Standing Council on Europe’s three-pronged approach to human rights:

  • no regression
  • not being left behind future progressive developments
  • making sure Scotland has a role in shaping and leading on change.

He suggested that that the Scottish Government’s compromise position paper would see Scotland retain certain links to the EU and allow these principles to be realised. However, it looks increasingly unlikely that the UK Government will accept the proposal.

Keen to re-emphasise the role the sector can play in shaping public opinion and ensuring people are aware of how human rights impact in our day-to-day lives, Professor Miller notes: “The third sector can play a huge and virtually unique role in the sense that it has such a far reach and access in to the communities that are the most vulnerable, disempowered and likely to suffer the greatest consequences of any changes.”

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Craig Wilson