Human rights have had a rough ride in recent years. The Human Rights Act (HRA) has become a proverbial ‘punching bag’ for certain Tory MPs, one of our most vociferously anti-human rights Home Secretaries now lives in No10, and, a few weeks ago, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was carved out of the EU (Withdrawal) Act so will cease to be part of domestic law when we leave the European Union. It was a Labour government that enacted the HRA, and it is only with a Labour government that our human rights will be protected. That is why the Labour Campaign for Human Rights is more important than ever before.
The Conservative Party has long sought to curtail human rights. Dominic Raab, the new Brexit Secretary, has declared “I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic or social rights” and, as a Justice Minister, drew up plans to replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’ that would have been a pale shadow of the HRA. Just last week, Sajid Javid demonstrated utter disregard for the most sacred human right of all – the right to life – by agreeing to deport two British jihadists to America without seeking ‘death penalty assurances’. Such views are widely held within Tory ranks – and go right to the top.
Theresa May has railed against human rights ever since, as Home Secretary, she was forced to get assurances that Abu Qatada, the radical Jordanian cleric, would not be tortured upon being deported home. Never mind that such protections are what make us a civilised society – and that Abu Qatada was quickly deported once guarantees were put in place – so incensed was Mrs May at having her ministerial powers curbed by something as inconvenient as human rights laws, she immediately declared that we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Instead of denigrating the ECHR, she should be proud of it. It was signed in the aftermath of World War Two in order to prevent such horrors ever resurfacing in Europe again. It was spearheaded by Winston Churchill, drafted by British lawyers, and forms the basis of human rights standards worldwide. It is not just there for the benefit of suspected terrorists, but to protect us all – whether you have been imprisoned without charge, are openly gay and want to serve in the army, or have been snooped on by the government.
Thankfully, the HRA and ECHR are safe for now. Theresa May reluctantly accepted during her leadership campaign that “there will be no parliamentary majority for pulling out of the ECHR, so that is something I’m not going to pursue”, and the EU has now made the UK’s continued membership of the ECHR a condition of any future security deal with Europe.
But the Tory threat to human rights remains all too real. Dominic Raab has shown contempt for the rights of workers and women alike – he has claimed it is “too hard to hire and fire people” in the UK, called feminists “obnoxious bigots”, and will no doubt use Brexit as an opportunity to roll back workers’ and equality rights.
Furthermore, despite protestations from Labour and the Lords, the government has carved the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) out of domestic law on the basis that the rights it contains are already included within the ECHR. But that is not correct. The CFR contains a positive right to education, a right of the elderly to dignity and independence, and a special guarantee on bioethics (stating that every person has the right to determine how their body is used in medical science), all of which will now be lost when we leave.
The Conservatives cannot be trusted with our rights – which is one of the many reasons why we need a Labour government. Labour is the party of humanity and human rights: the last manifesto pledged to keep the HRA, stay in the ECHR, and protect employment and equality rights. Human rights are core Labour values – rooted in our guiding principles of universality, equality, and solidarity – and the Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) will always ensure that human rights remain at the heart of Labour policy.
Matthew Turner is chair and executive director of Labour Campaign for Human Rights.