The Telegraph has reported that Boris Johnson’s government is set to ‘opt out’ of human rights laws. This is, of course, part of Brexit. It also appears to have Dominic Cummings’ hands all over it. But the reality is that even under EU rules, successive Tory governments flouted them anyway.
Human rights under threat?
are drawing up proposals to severely curb the use of human rights laws in areas where judges have ‘overreached’.
One group the government is targeting is asylum seekers. It wants to stop judges applying to the European Court of Human Rights in asylum cases. The Telegraph noted that the government will be doing a formal review into the laws. This is in line with the Tories’ 2019 manifesto commitments.
All roads lead to Cummings
The Telegraph noted that Cummings criticised:
the… [European Court of Human Rights] for judgements, based on the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights], blocking the deportation of ‘dangerous’ foreign criminals.
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One such example would be the deportation flight to Jamaica in February 2020. The government claimed the people were “criminals”. At the time, questions were raised over its legality. Some lawyers argued that the government would have to take into account Article 8 of the ECHR: the right to a private and family life. But in the end, around 20 people were deported anyway.
Herein lies the problem with the UK’s current obligations under the ECHR. Because when it suits the UK government, it ignores the rules anyway.
Pre-existing EU rules
A case in point is the situation for chronically ill and disabled people in the UK. As The Canary reported in 2018, a committee of the Council of Europe found that the UK had been breaching EU-wide rules. It involved the European Social Charter. This is:
a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the… [ECHR]… It guarantees a broad range of everyday human rights related to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare.
The Charter lays specific emphasis on the protection of vulnerable persons such as elderly people, children, people with disabilities and migrants.
But UK governments have ignored this “protection”.
“Grave” and “systematic” human rights violations
of Article 12, the right to social security. The committee found that many welfare benefits… were ‘manifestly inadequate’. That is, people were not getting enough money to live on and were being left in poverty.
The other breach was to do with the rights of temporary, domestic, and self-employed workers. But the committee also criticised the government over the state of the NHS, its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The report followed on from the UN’s repeated criticisms in similar areas. One UN report found successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
But in the face of this repeated rule breaching, the UK government essentially didn’t do anything. This is despite, for example, the alleged powers of the European Social Charter:
No other legal instrument at pan-European level can provide such an extensive and complete protection of social rights as that provided by the Charter, which also serves as a point of reference in European Union law; most of the social rights in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights are based on the relevant articles of the Charter.
The UK government has already repeatedly violated its obligations under various human rights laws. So Cummings’ plans to wind them back further may seem inconsequential. But it must be put against the backdrop of an increasingly dogmatic and authoritarian government. Therefore, this latest assault on our basic rights is a cause for concern. Because the UK may well end up in a position where many have no recourse when facing a government that’s violating their rights.
Governments have already attacked disabled people. Now, Cummings and the Tories have asylum seekers in their sights. And you have to ask the question: who’ll be next?
Featured image via the Sun – YouTube
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