Gary Lineker wasn't far off the mark with his attacks on the Tories
- First published in : Visit Website
- First published on: 10th Mar 2023
Universal Human Rights are under attack in the UK like never before. The Illegal Migration Bill introduced by Suella Braverman in the Commons this week breaches the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). There can be no question about that. Indeed, it is designed to do so. That’s the whole point.
While Suella has slithered and equivocated in parliament and during media interviews about whether the bill is compatible with the ECHR and other international treaties to which the UK is signed up, the bill itself is quite clear. Under s.19 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) the Minister who introduces a bill must make a statement to the effect that its provisions are compatible with ECHR rights or, that he or she is unable to do so but wishes nevertheless to proceed. Suella has chosen the latter option and that is written on the first page of the bill.
The UK Government accepts that the bill may breach the right to life, the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to be free from slavery and human trafficking, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the right to a family and private life, the right not to be discriminated against and the right to a remedy. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has also said that the bill clearly breaches the Refugee Convention to which the UK is also a party. Clause 1(5) of the bill states that courts in the UK are not required to interpret the bill in a way that is compatible with the ECHR rights. This potentially itself is a breach of the Convention and a big departure from the terms of the HRA. Further provisions of the bill echo legislation passed by Russia in 2015 limiting the availability and applicability of ECHR rights. Shamefully it was widely thought at the time that they had been encouraged to do so by toxic anti-Strasbourg rhetoric emanating from the UK.
So, what's going on here? Well in my view and many others it's quite simple really and astonishingly cynical. It is widely believed that the Tories plan to clash with the European Court of Human Rights and then to fight the next election on the platform of withdrawing from the ECHR. They will tell voters that the problems posed by tens of thousands of asylum seekers entering the UK cannot be solved without doing this. It’s a desperate last throw of the dice to stave off a General Election defeat by Labour by weaponising the fears that both parties have stoked over “illegal” migration and ‘invasions”.
Having equivocated for years and failed to put clear blue water between themselves and the Tories, Labour will find it hard to stave off this attack. Hell mend them. How we treat those seeking sanctuary is the measure of who we are as a nation. Once we start to create classes of people to whom human rights don’t apply, we are on a slippery slope to becoming the sort of state that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ECHR were designed to protect against in the aftermath of the Second World War. The much-maligned Gary Lineker wasn’t far off the mark in what he said this week and the attacks on his right to do so, as a sporting pundit, are rank hypocrisy especially as they come from right wingers who so often claim to be guardians of free speech.
In Scotland the position is very different. While there have been some rather silly attempts to suggest otherwise it is quite clear from the statements of all three candidates for the SNP leadership at the hustings that they support universal Human Rights. No one is suggesting that any rights be rolled back. No one is suggesting the repeal or radical amendment of the Human Rights Act or the Equality Act. Humza has promised to enshrine LGBT rights in the constitution of an independent Scotland. Quite right too. Indeed, it is what the party promised in 2014 when Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals for the transitional constitution of an independent Scotland enshrined all the protected characteristics of the Equality Act; sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, disability, age, race, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity. Nicola was also clear that the transitional constitution for an independent Scotland would incorporate the ECHR. I know Ash, Kate and Humza will support the full delivery of these promises.
Most Scots are fully behind the ECHR. It was written into the Scotland Act embodying the devolved settlement which 75% of voters signed up to back in 1997. And this week, Humza has reiterated the Scottish Government’s existing plans to create a Human Rights Bill that will incorporate four United Nations Human Rights treaties into Scots Law, at least in so far as the devolved competences are concerned. The four United Nations Human Rights treaties concerned are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Work is still ongoing to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.
However, we must not be complacent. If the UK leaves the ECHR before Scotland regains her independence, then we will be out of it as well and the devolved parliament would not have the competence to incorporate the ECHR back into Scots law nor any other international treaty the UK looks like leaving. The UK is the state party to these treaties. Without statehood Scotland cannot sign up. International relations are a reserved matter and so if the UK withdraws from a treaty such as the ECHR, our devolved parliament does not have the power to re-incorporate it even just for devolved matters.
During the Brexit debacle some people spent a lot of time promising Scotland would not be taken out of the EU against our will. But it happened because the devolved parliament did not have the power to stop it and nor did Scotland’s MPs as we are always outvoted by English interests. The same could well happen with the ECHR. This does not mean that the Scottish Government and MPs must not fight this as best we can. The position which the SNP and the Scottish Government take will be noted abroad amongst the countries whose recognition we seek once we have regained our independence. However, it will be vital not to lose sight of the fact that the only way we can guarantee the continued availability of ECHR rights and those of other important international conventions to everyone in Scotland is by becoming an independent nation. That is the main goal of the SNP and this latest attack on human rights is one very important reason why we must be certain our next leader has a plan to advance that goal.