A No-deal Brexit may be Illegal

The threat of a no-deal Brexit is creeping ever closer with no obvious plan B visible from Theresa May and her Brexit team, it comes as no surprise that the risk that there may be shortages of vital medicines and other supplies is now looming.  The recent dress rehearsal involving the nose to tail lorry chaos at Dover, staged presumably as an “awful warning” to those who would de-rail Mrs. May’s Brexit deal, has pointedly demonstrated, if we didn’t already know, that supplies may prove to be extremely difficult to obtain post-Brexit, at least in the first few weeks. 

This prospect has thrown up a legal question, Jonathan Cooper, a leading Human Rights lawyer, is quoted in today’s press suggesting that if the Government goes ahead with a no-deal Brexit and it causes in a shortage in vital medicines the consequence of which could result in loss of life. The Government would then be in breach of the Human Rights Act and the obligations of the international human rights treaty.  In addition, such an action would also violate common law as the Government cannot knowingly expose the population to the risk of loss or life due to its policies if those deaths would not have occurred otherwise.

The Government can hardly be unaware that shortages in medical supplies almost certainly would result in a rationing of vital drugs or such drugs would not be available at all, thereby causing people to die as a direct result of Government policies.  There is the strong possibility that seriously ill patients in the UK could bring a case before the European Court of Human Rights to force the court to put a hold on a no-deal Brexit highlighting on the world stage that the British Government has broken not only its own law but international law as well.  Furthermore, should the predicted loss of life actually happen there would be investigations into the circumstances and there would be public attribution of blame.  It has further been suggested that the British Government could be accountable to the United Nations.

Mrs. May and her Brexit team have acknowledged the potential risk of shortages of critical medical supplies should a no-deal Brexit be the only course that can be taken and somewhat tellingly have contingency plans for constraining civil disorder with as many as 3,500 troops on standby and the police are making themselves ready for public protests.  The health secretary, Matt Hancock, estimates that there could be a much as six months of shortages but this could easily escalate as the Government is in uncharted waters and it is difficult, even with statistical information, to estimate who will fall desperately ill in the next six months and how many sick babies will be born requiring extensive assistance.  Planned stockpiling of vital medicines and blood products was announced in the summer last year.

A legal assault to prevent a no-deal Brexit would not be aiming at preventing Brexit altogether but to prevent a non-compliant Brexit.  The Government cannot simply overlook the law because their planned strategy has not been a success.  The rights of the people must be respected and nobody should lose their life due to political policy.

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