The home secretary Suella Braverman is determined to fulfil Rishi Sunak’s 2022 pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’ bringing migrants (including asylum-seekers) here from France. But despite their so-called ‘deterrents’, like deploying ex-military sites and barges as accommodation, the boats continue to arrive.
What have ministers got against the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR)?
Ministers believe that flying migrants to Rwanda for ‘processing’ would be a strong deterrent. They could make claims for asylum in Rwanda, not the UK. If unsuccessful, Rwanda could attempt to deport them to their country of origin. However, in 2022, the European Court of Human Rights intervened at the last moment to prohibit the first Rwanda flight. A judge ruled that those sent from Rwanda to their home state may face torture, so none have yet been sent there.
Braverman, frustrated at the intervention, has suggested the UK withdraw from the Convention, and some senior Tories want this in their election manifesto. If it is, and Conservatives win the election, it could be interpreted as approval to exit the Convention, joining Russia and Belarus as the only European states outside it.
What is the ECHR?
It was drafted after World War Two by the 12 member states of the Council of Europe, including the UK. Lead lawyers drafting it were British, with Winston Churchill a key protagonist. It protects people from human rights abuses, aiming to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust recurring. The European Court of Human Rights enforces the European Convention.
The Council is unconnected to the European Union, and now has 46 members.
The Convention’s first 14 articles are:
- 1 ‐ Obligation to respect human rights
- 2 ‐ Right to life
- 3 ‐ Prohibition of torture
- 4 ‐ Prohibition of slavery and forced labour
- 5 ‐ Right to liberty and security
- 6 ‐ Right to a fair trial
- 7 ‐ No punishment without law
- 8 ‐ Respect for private and family life
- 9 ‐ Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- 10 ‐ Freedom of expression
- 11 ‐ Freedom of assembly and association
- 12 ‐ Right to marry and have a family
- 13 ‐ Right to an effective remedy
- 14 ‐ Prohibition of discrimination
It protects the rights of 700 million citizens in member states. By joining the Council of Europe, countries agree to comply with Court judgments.
Cases brought by UK nationals have led to law changes. One judgment led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. Others include exempting domestic violence victims from ‘bedroom tax’, and stopping teachers hitting children.
A sledgehammer to crack a nut?
Leaving the ECHR has far-reaching consequences. It would breach the Good Friday Agreement and endanger the peace settlement in Northern Ireland.
Withdrawing, ostensibly to allow government to send migrants to Rwanda, would also have the draconian effect of threatening everyone’s rights. The European Court is the last resort for citizens to hold a state to account if their rights are infringed. It’s especially crucial for the UK as one of the few states without a codified constitution, alongside for example, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Seven years ago, Leave campaigners convinced enough voters that controlling people coming from the EU to live here was a valid reason to vote to leave the bloc. Subsequently, British people also lost their rights and freedoms to live and work in the EU.
Leaving the ECHR might give the government more freedom to think up schemes to deter migrants, including asylum seekers, but would also drastically curtail the human rights of its own citizens.
The optics are not good
Experts believe it would be ‘counterproductive for the UK’s global leadership’. Additionally, the European Union requires members to commit to ‘protect everybody, including immigrants and refugees, against violations of fundamental rights and freedoms as embodied in… the ECHR’. Quitting the Convention could be a huge stumbling block should the UK seek to join the EU in the future.