One of the most senior Brussels bureaucrats has warned Britain it would be on a par with Putin’s Russia if the Conservative Government follows through on its pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act. A government minister has hit back at the suggestion, depicting it as irresponsibly wrong.
The Conservative Party fought the last general election on a manifesto which contained a pledge to abolish the Labour government’s Human Rights Act. Although backbench colleagues feared the policy had been quietly dropped after it was left out of The Queen’s Speech in May, at the June events commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta the Prime Minister reaffirmed the policy. On that occasion he declared it the duty of politicians to restore the ‘distorted’ reputation of human rights.
Now, the Daily Mail reports, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has “strongly rebuked” the proposed reform, warning of “alarming tendencies emerging” on the rule of law across Europe. He said it would be impossible to criticise Russia for human rights violations if the government honoured the manifesto pledge, saying:
“You can only challenge others if you are ready to be challenged yourself. I take issue with people in the UK who say ‘we don’t need a Court in Strasbourg to check what we’re doing’.
“If you take that position in London, the same position will be taken in Moscow or elsewhere. It only works if you’re prepared to be criticised.”
Conservative defenders of the move have been vocal in their criticism of Timmermans’ somewhat hysterical warning. Justice Minister Dominic Raab said: “This is an irresponsible and inaccurate caricature of our plans for reform. The idea that the UK’s flawed Human Rights Act has helped moderate Vladimir Putin’s behaviour is ridiculous.”
In fact the manifesto pledge was at pains to preempt Timmermans’ criticism. It read:
We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK.
The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights.
It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society.
But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society.
Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.
The government plans to demote the European Court of Human Rights to a mere advisory role, with the final say in any legal dispute resting with Britain’s Supreme Court. However, defending the Human Rights Act is one of the few issues uniting Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties.
With a Parliamentary majority of just 12 MPs, the government may well have to work with the Human Rights Act for some time.