LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The rights of British minority groups are under threat from hardline politicians holding the government to ransom during the Brexit process, leading lawyer Helena Kennedy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win support across political lines after her proposed Brexit deal was defeated by a historic margin in parliament, ahead of Britain’s looming departure from the European Union on March 29.
Kennedy said the lack of a firm government commitment to the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into the British statute book, is a “flag” that it intends to eventually replace or repeal the law.
“If you’re a gay man or woman, a person who’s bisexual, a person who’s transsexual, just beware, this is what they have in mind,” said Kennedy, also an opposition Labour member of the House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper house of parliament.
Kennedy, a champion of civil liberties and a leading human rights lawyer, won a landmark court ruling in 1996 that made it illegal to discriminate against transgender people at work.
The Human Rights Act, which was passed in 1998, enabled court rulings that gave same-sex couples equal tenancy rights and supported legal gender recognition for trans people.
It also allowed gay people to serve openly in the military, according to Stonewall, Britain’s leading LGBT+ rights charity.
May has previously said Britain should withdraw from the ECHR, a position supported by hardliners in her fractious party.
Repealing the act could also roll back the protections won by LGBT+ people against discrimination at work, Kennedy said.
The decreased probability of any single party being able to command a majority in Britain’s parliament means “small groups (are) able to hold a gun to the head of political parties, because they’re needed for coalition,” Kennedy said.
Human rights are also at risk thanks to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Northern Irish party that supports the government in key votes, Kennedy said.
“Take your signal from the fact that the DUP has been able to exercise so much power in this government,” Kennedy said.
“Look at this small group of people, who are deeply reactionary, homophobic, misogynistic.”
The DUP opposes same-sex marriage and liberalizing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.
Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland does not allow same-sex marriage. It also only allows abortion if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a risk to her mental or physical health that is long term or permanent.
The Ministry of Justice and the DUP did not respond to requests for comment.
Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org