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Is Theresa May Using Brexit to Scrap Human Rights in the UK

Updated on January 02, 2017

Theresa May has said exiting the European Convention on Human Rights will be the focus of her 2020 election campaign. This continues along the path she mapped out when Home Secretary and the path Labour followed before 2010 when they tried to introduce compulsory (but not free) ID cards in the UK [2] and channels Enoch Powell who often proclaimed human rights do not exist.

Since she wanted to remain in the EU before the EU referendum it seems likely she is using Brexit to further her anti human rights agenda.

Human Rights are currently devolved to Scotland so we can expect her to repatriate this power to Westminster. This will almost certainly happen if a second independence referendum results in a NO vote.

Some History

After WWII the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has 30 articles detailing the basic rights that, the author believes, any society that claims to be civilised must grant its citizens. British representatives were frustrated that the declaration had moral but not legal force. This persisted until 1976 when the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, giving a legal status to most of the UDHR. Britain signed the covenant in 1968 and ratified it in 1976.

The Council of Europe was set up after the Second World War to protect human rights and the rule of law and to promote democracy across Europe and in 1950 the Council of Europe (Not the EU) created The European Convention on Human Rights. This enshrines a subset of the UDHR rights but, interestingly given the Tory worship of work, or at least employment not a right to leisure.

Britain and The European Convention on Human Rights

The UK played a significant role in creating and writing the ECHR:

  • Winston Churchill, that well known communist liberal (compared with today’s alt-right Tories) called for ‘ A Human Rights Charter’ in the aftermath of World War II and of ensuring “people owned the government, and not the government the people”. Unlike the Daily mail and the Brexiteers after the recent High Court judgment he also believed in the rule of law.

  • British lawyer and Conservative politician David Maxwell Fyfe, who went on to become the UK’s Home Secretary was one of the key writers of the ECHR. That was in the days of ‘One Nation’ Conservatism not today’s ‘My Wallet’ Conservatism.

  • The UK, despite having had been worried about the effect on its colonies and its sovereignty, was one of the first states to sign the ECHR on 4 November 1950 and the first to ratify it on 8 March 1951 and extended the Convention to almost all of its colonies. The enforcement process, via the European Commission on Human Rights, was set up in 1954 and the European Court in 1959.

In 1998 the UK introduced the Human Rights act which covers the same ground as the ECHR but allows individuals direct access to the court.

The Risk

Human rights in Britain are currently protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These all ultimately depend on the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

So if Mrs G4Security May succeeds in quitting the ECHR the Human Rights act must be modified to remove access to the relevant European courts. Repealing it and “forgetting” to introduce a modified version will make Britain non compliant with the ICCPR so the UK will have to de-ratify this. This would leave the UDHR which will have moral and no legal force in the UK.

The Tory response to the UN report that dammed them for violating the rights of disabled people suggests that, as with Labour, the Liberals, and UKIP, morality is an empty word unless it can be used against their opponents and that UN actions can always be written off as some frog eating lefty trying to take away “Our” powers: the powers to oppress the poor, hound immigrants, unless they are very very rich, and shuffle money from the punters -who put their chips on Red or Blue, or played hate-the-black-jack on the UKIP tables - to the establishment casino.

It is entirely possible that the PM does not understand this and that the civil service are afraid of telling her. It is also possible that her aim is only to get rid of anything that smacks of Europe, in which case all European loan words will have to be removed from the English language, until we get back to Anglo Saxon, the earlier Celtic/Brythonic tongues being too primitive for an advanced nation like England to use. Scots and Gaelic may also have to be banned. Thus “Television” would have to become “Far seer” and Telephone “Far Speaker” and obviously Arabic numbers would have to be replaced by a new system.

What seems more likely is that the PM wants to continue the war on human rights that she and the DWP pursued when she was Home Secretary, considers the European Court of Justice and the ECHR as the only substantial obstacle and the other protections as paper tigers she can ignore.

What Could Happen

The Tories under Theresa May are reelected after Brexit and start trying to quit the ECHR that old fashioned members of the Tory party such as Winston Churchill (who would now be labelled communist europhiles and islamophiles working towards a new world order and one world government) fashioned in response to the atrocities of the second world war. This is accompanied by more demonisation of immigrants, mostly made up stories in the right wing press. Big Business, which employs about 5% of the work force is jumping for joy at the prospect of damaging workers’ rights and smaller businesses, where management knows the staff as more than a number, are reluctantly forced to become Gradgrinds to the extreme.

Labour, being the other (J)anus face of the Tory party supports this because Scotland, represented by the SNP in Westminster, would be against it

The Scottish Parliament votes against this electing to remain in the ECHR. Westminster can either accept this and revoke the ECHR in England but not Scotland, which would be messy or repatriate powers over Human Rights to Westminster. There is a a constitutional crises deftly exploited by the SNP and the Greens. Again Labour reflexively supports the Tories.

Rather than repatriating these powers Westminster decides to dissolve Holyrood. The current leader of the Tory Party forgets her 2014 pledge to change her mind on Independence if the Tories acted against the Scottish Parliament and Labour again supports them because they hate the SNP. The Council of Europe is involved but has less influence than it did in setting up the Scottish Parliament.

At this point many NO voters become YES or even hard YES voters. A minority applaud Westminster’s power grab. There is widespread passive disobedience and possibly civil unrest. The call for UDI threatens to become irresistible and unsurpressable. This could cause almost as much damage to Scotland and the remaining UK as a hard Brexit.

Alternatively the Scottish Parliament votes for quitting the ECHR. This is where things get unpredictable as Scottish Elections may take place before May explodes the Human Rights bomb. It does not cause great division as for most of the public human rights are a non issue till they are taken away for more than a tiny minority and the Tories continue to ignore Scotland.

We cannot trust Labour to fight for Human Rights
We cannot trust Labour to fight for Human Rights

In Summary

Given her past record it looks like the PM wants to abolish legal protection for human rights in the UK. Human Rights are protected by a number of mechanisms many set up by Tories in the days when the Tory Party included Humans. Dismantling these protections would be a long slow process and could involve at least one constitutional crisis. Labour would, however, almost certainly vote with the Tories to scrap Human Rights, at least for the poor and the middle classes. Since this would negatively affect workers’ rights Big Business and the Mainstream Media would enthusiastically support it

Further Reading

  1. Disclaimer: I am no expert in International law or the British Constitution and prediction, like reading a Politician’s mind, is hard. The future is likely to unfold differently and Black Swan events like the Mule in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy could result in a completely different future.
  2. I have no problem with a card that would let me establish my identity, provided it was unhackable ( impossible) and did not leave a train of my activities and locations (possible). A card that would leave me liable to identity theft and allow tracking of my movements and activities is, however, unacceptable.
  3. Brexit Secretary David Davis just took Theresa May to the EU Court of Justice and won: In a victory for both privacy campaigners and absurdity, the EU court agreed with David Davis that parts of the Snooper's Charter are unlawful
  4. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  5. The European Convention on Human Rights
  6. The Human Rights Act


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