Why Theresa May is wrong about human rights


IN THE aftermath of the London terror attacks, Theresa May said she would change human rights laws if they “get in the way” of tackling terror in the UK.

The problem with this is three-fold. Firstly, British security services already possess extensive anti-terrorism powers that have been denounced by Amnesty International as among “the most draconian” in Europe.

Secondly, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has nothing to do with the EU. It came into effect in 1953 (ironically, Conservative MP and Scotsman Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe was instrumental in the drafting).

The Council of Europe is separate from the EU and was established in 1949. The best-known body of the Council is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the Convention.

To make the Convention practical, and to save people the cost of going to the ECtHR, the Labour Party produced the Human Rights Act 1998.

To do away with human rights, or repeal them, would require the same majority of which May now scarcely enjoys from a party now gunning for her.

David Cameron only ever flirted with the idea because he wanted to appease Eurosceptics by introducing a ‘British Bill of Rights (ignoring that the country invented Magna Carta and the limits to absolute monarchy).

May wanted to scrap it altogether in 2011 when she was Home Secretary. The Act protects fundamental freedoms, including the right to a fair trial which is what May finds distasteful about terror suspects.

Thirdly, what would the absence of the Human Rights Act look like? Consider Spain, which only became a signatory to the Convention in 1977.

The Franco regime engaged in hundreds of thousands of acts of barbarism including torture, medical experimentation, political repression and death squads.

The British tortured, too. It’s been an integral component throughout our history, including as recently in Kenya in the 1950s, the Troubles in Northern Ireland and into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Worse, still, the UK is permitted under Article 15 to ‘derogate’, or depart from, parts of the Convention in a “time of emergency”, such as events “threatening the life of the nation.”

Look closer, and you see what happens when the state gets security obsessed. Democratic traditions, as in Spain and Germany, can easily be overturned when one life is considered expendable.

When you pull on one thread, you should consider the larger tapestry. Human rights are an instrument for the protection of people, and removing them from Britain risks citizens at both home and abroad.