To leave the European Convention on Human Rights would be an act of epic historical selfishnessby Adam Wagner / June 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
In March last year, Dominic Cummings, former Campaign Director of Vote Leave, warned that after Brexit happens “we’ll be coming for the ECHR… and we’ll win that by more than 52-48…” For anyone who has paid attention to the public debate over the Human Rights Act (HRA) and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the past decade, those were chilling words.
The safeguards we rely on to protect our human rights, here in the UK and across Europe, are not guaranteed for all time. They have emerged from a supreme effort of political inspiration, will and cooperation over the past seven decades. But they can swiftly be undone. In the post-Brexit world, it is only a matter of time before “sorting out” human rights is back on the agenda.
And the starting gun has just been fired, through Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures. Two titles give the flavour: “Law’s Expanding Empire” and “Human rights and wrongs.” Sumption is a former-ish Supreme Court Justice (he has retired as a full-time judge but still sits on some cases). When his lectures were announced, it was obvious to those who have followed his previous statements that he would use them as a vehicle to present a highly sceptical view of human rights. And so he has.
Sumption is hardly the first high-profile figure to argue that the human rights have gone too far. But, regrettably, the whole debate has become riddled with confusion. It is worth spelling out just where the discussion is going wrong—and just how vital these fundamental protections are to British citizens.
To recap, the ECHR is an international treaty which the UK signed in 1951. It contains a list of the basic political and civil rights which we all need to live a dignified life; the right not to be tortured, to free speech, to private life and so on. The content of the ECHR was heavily influenced by its great proponents, Winston Churchill and David Maxwell-Fyfe, a British prosecutor at Nuremberg and Tory home secretary. They saw the ECHR as a means of infusing post-war continental Europe with liberal values and the rule of law.
Before 2000, if a UK citizen was having their rights under the ECHR breached by the state, they had to bring a claim at the European Court of Human…