The rise of Euro-scepticism and the threat to human rights

The rise of Euro-scepticism and the threat to human rights
The success of UKIP and the other anti-European parties in the European Elections seems to have had a significant effect on the attitudes of all the political parties in the UK. Even if the actual number of votes cast for UKIP or seats won was not as significant (or as much or an increase) as sometimes portrayed by the media, the Euro-sceptic narrative has had significant boost.
Some of us human rights activists occasionally make fun of journalists and newspapers that don’t make clear the differences between the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Council of Europe and the European Union but there is a real danger that we might sometimes miss the key point about Euro-scepticism and the consequential threat to human rights in the UK. Abolition or replacing the Human Rights Act (HRA) with a watered down British Bill of Rights (whose rights might not apply to quite the same extent to foreigners) or even withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ECtHR itself would be a challenge for any government or parliament and the forces that might oppose this would be considerable. However the economic and political arguments against leaving the EU are much more significant politically and many powerful commercial and political interests will line up to oppose it. My concern is that the greater the pressure that there is to leave the EU, the more likely it is that another sacrifice will be offered to the anti-European movement.
It is not too difficult to imagine a scenario where the Tories continue to be pursued in the opinion polls by UKIP in the run up to next year’s general elections and feel that they need to throw a bone to that group of possible supporters. As we know abolishing the HRA is already supported by many senior Tories anyway and the suggestion that a Tory government might withdraw from the ECtHR is regularly floated in the press. A minority Tory government propped up by a few UKIP MPs is unlikely to favour the HRA, the ECHR or the ECtHR interfering in our “domestic affairs”.
The apparent desire to disconnect the UK from Europe appears very powerful and certainly the politics of this fills the airwaves and news pages. For those of us that want to see the Human Rights Act retained as it is and believe that the right to apply to the ECtHR is a crucial brick in the overall structure that protects rights in this country have a very significant challenge to face up to. Whilst the Act and the ECHR continue to protect rights in this country, the examples of this are, either not controversial enough to obtain air time, or get the publicity but all too often confirm anti-European prejudices. Human rights activists and human rights NGOs never have the resources that they need to make significant inroads into the myths or to challenge the developing narrative around the HRA despite their hard work, thoughtful approach and dedication. The evidence seems to be that the public at large wants laws to protect human rights and supports the principles set out in the Articles of the ECHR. However their support drops away when the courts use human rights to protect the “undeserving” or those that are not British Citizens by birth (particularly when the story is spun in an anti-European direction).
Fortunately, given the opportunity to learn more about human rights and how it works, many sceptical members of the public become supporters (or at least give their grudging support and accept that rights have to apply to the good and the bad).
Ironically the accession of the EU to the ECtHR (not so far a focus of Euro-sceptic analysis) will result in the European Commission being more accountable for its activities and less able to breach the ECHR and the, largely traditionally British, rights it contains. We need a plan and we have only a short period to devise it and put it into place.

2 thoughts on “The rise of Euro-scepticism and the threat to human rights”

  1. Whilst I can appreciate your argument, you do make accusations without any substantial evidence to support. Do you have evidence for supporters changing allegiances following studies of the Human Rights or anything for senior Tories wishing to abolish the HRA? This isn’t a polemic but more so an interested query.

    1. The evidence does exist but it isn’t appropriate for detailed footnotes in a blog.

      I your first question I think BIHR has done the most work. Have a look at their website

      http://www.bihr.org.uk/projects/summary

      I suggest you also look at the material on the EDF website

      http://www.edf.org.uk/blog/

      On the second issue here is one example but there are many more

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/judges-on-side-of-foreign-criminals-says-theresa-may-as-tories-repeat-threat-to-quit-human-rights-convention-8849335.html

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