The Eurosceptic right spies a chance to fulfil its long-held ambition of human rights destructionby Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos / March 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
Writing after the referendum in 2016, in the preface of his disturbingly timely On Fantasy Island: Britain, Europe and Human Rights, Conor Gearty, professor of human rights law, warned: “Now that the larger European entanglement has been successfully seen off, the time has come for finishing the unfinished business of human rights destruction.”
“The opponents of human rights are feeling emboldened by Brexit,” said Keir Starmer in 2017; “there are those that want Britain to retreat further from the obligations of … internationalism, including from the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights” (ECHR).
News this week that Britain will not accept continued commitment to the ECHR as an essential element in the future partnership with the EU, brings us one step closer to Gearty’s and Starmer’s ominous warnings becoming reality: the UK standing in near-complete isolation, as far as democratic countries go, in attempting to unravel its basic human rights infrastructure, putting at grave risk the international system for the protection of such rights in the process. The UK is currently the only country in the 47-member-strong Council of Europe—spanning the European continent, from Portugal, Ireland and Iceland in the west, to Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and the Russian Federation in the east—that so openly threatens to withdraw from the key legal instrument bringing these contracting parties together.
The Sunday Telegraph more specifically reported—in the deeply Eurosceptic, tabloid-like tone that has become symptomatic of its coverage of Brexit—that the “PM will not let independent UK be bound by ‘abusive’ European human rights laws,” and that it “understands” that the government’s refusal to accept the proposed ECHR clauses in a post-Brexit trade agreement leave “the door open to break away from the treaty as soon as next year.”
At this point some background is required. The European Convention on Human Rights is not part of EU law (though it has long been attacked as a proxy for the EU). It is a separate international human rights instrument that was created by the Council of Europe. Winston Churchill raised the idea of a Council of Europe in 1946 and is still seen as one of its “founding fathers” and one of the “pioneers of Europe.” The Treaty that set up the statute of the Council was signed…