Earlier this week, the House of Commons debated our involvement with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) following Theresa May’s comments about Britain leaving the convention.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my decision to vote for us to remain in the European Union. Since publishing that article, I’ll admit that I do agree with what some of the ‘leave’ campaigners had to say in the comments, but I have yet to have someone explain how a vote to leave would benefit human rights. It is both this and this week’s debate which has prompted me to ask: even if all the reasons to stay in the EU are flawed, should we remain in the European Union to protect our human rights?
This question comes down to the fact that all EU member countries must sign up to the ECHR. If we vote to leave the European Union in June, we sever ties with all aspects of the union including the European Convention on Human Rights. In turn, this paves the way for our government to work on a British Bill of Rights – which is something a single government shouldn’t be allowed to deal with.
I mean, each political party is biased towards different social classes, social topics and so forth. With that in mind, could any government or party come up with a British Bill of Rights which is fair for everyone? At the moment, the outcry towards changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could lead some to believe that the Conservatives may not be the best people to trust with our human rights – myself included.
Of course, our country does have separated powers, which mean the judiciary and judges are separate from the executive (government) and legislature (parliament). However, even if these new British rights were to be created by lawyers (like the convention was after WW2), what’s not to say that there won’t be any government influence over these new rights?
Whilst ‘leave’ voters are right to argue that the EU taking some of our sovereignty impacts our independence, it also adds more accountability to our governments. In her speech this week, Theresa May said the ECHR “binds the hands of parliament” – but isn’t that down to the accountabilty the ECHR (and indeed the ECJ) provides? If we don’t like what a government is doing, or if we need another level to appeal to in law, then both the ECJ and ECHR can help UK citizens. Why should these be removed? Does this imply that the Tories dislike accountability?
Despite this, I do appreciate the difficulty the UK had with the ECHR over the deportation of radical preachers, but that is a matter for reform, not withdrawal from the convention – reform and a possible withdrawal being something the Attorney General touched on in this week’s debate on the matter.
Very much like the EU, the ECHR has a lot of close ties with Britain that would simply cause problems if these are cut. For example, Joanna Cherry from the SNP said that because the Scotland Act is strongly bound to the ECHR, leaving the convention would cause a constitutional crisis – something all governments should avoid.
But as well as the ties to Scotland, an excellent and hilarious comedy sketch from the Guardian points out some of the flaws in the argument for us to leave the ECHR, and what the convention has done for us:
Lastly, a vote to remain would secure our ties to the ECHR. If we stay in the EU but choose to leave the convention, it’s unlikely the European Union would allow us to withdraw. It would be problematic in terms of the British Bill of Rights, but good news for those who think the government shouldn’t have control over our rights.
What do you think? How will you be voting in June’s EU referendum? Do you think we should leave the ECHR or seek reform? Comment below!