The talk of coming out of the ECHR is all hot air because rights are natural and inalienable, it would therefore mean that these rights are not rights but privileges. Looking to the etymological origins of the word privilege, privi is private and leg is law, thus privileges are private laws which can and will be taken away. Courtesy of Mary Riddell @ The Telegraph:
Ten years ago this summer, I rode a motorbike through the eight countries newly welcomed into the European Union. As I travelled the 1250 miles from Estonia to Slovenia, a flourish of a British passport took me through frontiers closed for half a century by the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. New motorways were replacing farm tracks, and it seemed that hope had triumphed over repression.
A decade on, the European dream has soured so fast, for some at least, that Britain stands on the road marked EU exit. With an In/Out referendum enshrined in this week’s Queen’s Speech, our relationship with Europe will be one of the defining issues of this Parliament and this century. On a separate front, the Government is toying with another rupture.
The pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, even if delayed for a year, is intended to break the “formal link” with the European Court of Human Rights and make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter. Though the Strasbourg court is independent of the EU, many Tories view it as a mechanism for European meddling in British justice.
It is possible that, by the end of this Parliament, Britain will not only be gone from the EU but will also have renounced the European Convention on Human Rights designed to bind together, in a universal code of decency, nations shattered by the Second World War. Two such momentous issues require a deft government and a valiant opposition. Britain can rely on neither.
Mr Cameron’s referendum campaign began badly, and possibly fatally, with evidence that France and Germany have made a deal for further eurozone integration without the need to re-open treaties. Our Prime Minister can only achieve his more ambitious aims, such as a Commons veto over EU legislation, through treaty changes which now look less likely than ever.
The PM is likely, however, to get concessions on welfare payments for migrants, as long as he does not seek to curb immigration by altering the principle, sacrosanct to his fellow leaders, of free movement of labour. Long before the election, Labour’s Rachel Reeves believed she had convinced European ministers that the long tail of low pay in Britain, coupled with relatively generous benefits, meant that Britain had grounds to restrict both unemployment and in-work benefits for incomers.
With Tory Eurosceptics likely to reject any deal short of total capitulation by EU leaders, it is vital for Labour to make a bold case for Europe. Instead the party has shuffled into line with the Tories after rejecting Ed Miliband’s opposition to a referendum. Far from being swayed by voters demanding a vote, many Labour MPs always thought Mr Miliband was wrong.
Nor is Labour the fiercely pro-European force it once was. With its most ardent Europhiles abroad, in the case of David Miliband, dumped (Douglas Alexander) or demobbed (Tony Blair), the arguments in favour of Europe have boiled down to a tepid pro-business pitch plus an argument for 16 and 17-year-olds to have a referendum vote.
Desirable as it would be for teenagers to help choose their destiny, Labour has failed to make the case that will secure a better future. Unless the opposition can argue convincingly that our peace, stability, power and wellbeing are contingent on staying within the EU, as well instilling in British citizens a pride in being European, then the battle will never be won.
If the three Labour leadership candidates have little to say on EU membership, they are even more silent on the government’s wish to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA). The most strident Labour opposition has come from Lord Falconer, the new shadow lord chancellor and an architect of the original bill, passed in 2008, who makes a jurist’s case on why the Lords will reject the reject any substitute legislation that strikes at constitutional rights. Correct as he is, that argument will sway no voters.
It has fallen to wiser Tories, such as Dominic Grieve, David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, to decry the scrapping of the HRA as abhorrent. Constructing a British bill is also unworkable, as Labour – who tried such an exercise under Gordon Brown – know well.
Human rights are not national in their character, any more than they are just for nice people. Since it will be unwilling or unable to dilute the right to life, liberty, a fair trial and freedom from torture, the government will base its fight on the false claim that our courts are bound to obey the edicts of the Strasbourg court.
The HRA obliges domestic courts only to take into account Strasbourg’s judgment. This obligation, in turn, is laid down not in British law but in the European Convention on Human Rights. That treaty, pioneered by Churchill, has protected the 770 million inhabitants in the 47 member nations of the Council of Europe, whose frontiers stretch from Reykjavik to Vladivostock.
Since the Strasbourg court is integral to the convention, Mr Cameron might have to walk away from both. That in turn would threaten Britain’s place in Europe, given that adherence to the human rights convention is a basic tenet of EU membership. Having secured our total isolation, the Tories might also contrive to finish off the Union, since the HRA is ingrained in Britain’s devolution arrangements with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The whole disaster would be based on misunderstandings and lies. Far from being a tool of repression, British human rights law has protected citizens against modern slavery, stopped rape victims being cross-examined by their alleged attackers and prevented the storage of innocent citizens’ DNA. Nor is it even true that the HRA prevents foreign suspects being sent home. Many such people are actually protected by an EU refugee directive that would apply even if we walked away from the human rights convention.
In political and moral terms, Mr Cameron is staring at catastrophe. Yet not one of the candidates vying to lead the Labour Party has chosen to mount a passionate, or even an audible defence, of a Human Rights Act symbolising the best of British justice.
Behind the scenes, Labour MPs and functionaries are becoming ever more anxious about a leadership election one senior adviser calls “desperately depressing”. The worries are less about which contender will win but whether any of them deserves to. “I don’t think we have got the right candidate yet,” says one MP.
Despite its turmoil, Labour cannot afford to stare inwards at the very moment when a Tory government is preparing for isolation. Ed Miliband’s vision might have been unpopular, but at least he had a plan. A party desperate to bury all traces of his legacy appears to have no creed to put in its place and no answers to Conservative depredations.
Mr Cameron’s legislative programme is as arcane as the vellum on which it is inscribed. Backward-looking and ill-judged, today’s Queen’s Speech may go down as the most dangerous in memory. Britain risks being cut off not only from Europe but also from the norms of civilized societies. If Labour’s prospective leaders do not decry such perils, they are not worth the office that they covet.