Tories want to leave the ECHR, but they’re not ready for bottom up resistance

ECHR court room
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A dramatic late intervention saw a deportation flight to Rwanda halted on Tuesday 14 June. The decision, which would have seen asylum seekers sent to the African nation, was a victory for human rights. And it caused an outpouring of rage from the worst sections of British society.

The critical call was made in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The judicial wing of the Council of Europe, the ECHR emerged following WW2 to protect citizens from their governments. Today, it’s hard to imagine that Britain was a key player in the ECHR’s development. It was also the first signatory of the 46 member states subject to its decisions.

As one Twitter user pointed out, Boris Johnson’s maternal grandfather was a central figure in the ECHR’s history:

Euro confusion

Critics of the ECHR decision, with typical attention to detail, were quick to claim that this kind of thing should have stopped with Brexit. But their error is in thinking that the ECHR is an EU initiative simply because it has ‘European’ in the title.

This is incorrect. And it is a distinction which even arch-centrists seem to be able to grapple with:

Many fundamental rights are enshrined in, and protected by, the ECHR. These include everything from anti-slavery laws to freedom of speech, citizenship rights and much more:

Enraged Tories, including Boris Johnson, were already attacking the ECHR ahead of the court’s decision. As human rights NGO Liberty pointed out, the abandonment of the organisation would be disastrous for many vulnerable groups:

But Johnson’s rhetoric is a startling turn from his previous views. The Independent unearthed a video of Johnson from 2016. In it, he claims that the ECHR was “one of the great things” the UK had created.

Equally striking is the fact that Winston Churchill, one of Johnson’s idols, was himself a key figure in the development of the ECHR and the Council of Europe.

All-out assault

The ECHR’s intervention is justified, and the decision should be welcomed. However, liberal institutions are not the only factor here. Many individuals and organisations campaigned tirelessly to stop the deportations. Organisations like the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) mounted legal challenges alongside charities like Care 4 Calais and Detention Action. Stop Deportations took direct action, and the law firm InstaLaw also challenged the plans.

This led top Tories to fall back on accusations of left-wing lawyers disrupting their plans. This was a tactic wheeled out over their plans to stop British soldiers being held to account for war crimes. In 2016, then-PM Theresa May used the Tory conference to insist:

…we will never again in any future conflict let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave the men and women of our armed forces.

Since then, critics of hardline Tory asylum policies have had the same trope used against them.


Bottom-up anti-deportation protests have become more high-profile. Only days before the Rwanda flight was cancelled, Peckham locals blockaded an immigration raid until the police and immigration officers left the scene.

This is despite the police getting rough with the protestors, as video footage of the event shows:

In May, Glasgow locals stopped authorities in another raid directed against two men who live in the city. On 15 May, the refugee and migrant charity Positive Action in Housing told The Canary they were considering legal action:

The Home Office have referred to these men as illegal.

Well they are wrong, and we are now investigating legal action against the Home Office for casting such aspersions.

The term illegal in this context is part of the hostile environment. It’s not appropriate to use it for people who have lived in the UK for several years and are part of a community.

War on human rights

There is a war on human rights in the UK. Refugee solidarity is a vital front in that conflict. The Tories are going all out against some of the most vulnerable in our society. And if they win, we all lose. Why? Well we can do worse than remember the words of the late Tony Benn:

The way the government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.

And he was right. Because if they can strip refugees and migrants of their humanity and drag them off to some gulag, you can bet they’ll do the very same to the rest of us if it suits their whims. The buck stops with us. The ECHR won out for now, but we can’t rely on far-off courts. Resistance begins in our own communities


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/CherryX, cropped to 770 x 403, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Theresa May announced this at the 2013 CP Annual Conference, to great cheer from young and old alike! Jeremy Corbyn warned about this from September 2015 to December 2019, sadly too many idiots on their Blair, Campbell, Mandelson ‘Remoan’ and Farage, Johnson and Galloway ‘Brexiteer’ Bandwagons, the GetCorbyn Bandwagons and MSM Zombified Sheeple were screeching so loud nobody could hear Corbyn and the “Corbyn Cultists”, like myself. So to all of you crying rivers of tears, told you so! If you were too arrogant to listen that is your bussiness, 43 YEARS TORY HELL, TWO TORY PARTIES and NO WAY OUT OF 43 MORE YEAR OF TORY HELL, ONLY MUCH WORSE!
      Psycho Poly Patel gave the green light for Assange and yet many who read this will defend and vote for the TORY filth BlueKeef who was the architect behind JA, the filthy NEO-Labour TORY Party who robbed The PEOPLE of the once in a lifetime opportunity, which we were lucky enough to get twice, to end 43 years of TORY HELL!

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