Conservative leadership contenders – where do they stand on human rights?

It’s worth reminding ourselves that this contest will conclude will be, for a time at least, the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  The Conservatives won the last election on a manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.  This 2016 Queen’s Speech (re)announced the government’s intention to consult on its proposals for such a Bill.   So where might the various leadership contenders stand in this question?

Theresa May (current odds 4/6 William Hill, 10/11 Ladbrokes)

May famously cited a case whereby a court had allegedly upheld a man’s right to private and family life on the basis of his owning a cat in arguing for the UK to leave the ECHR.  As Home Secretary she has battled on various fronts against human rights, including most notably in relation to the deportation of Abu Qatada, though in the end she did secure action on torture by Lebanon that allowed Qatada to be successfully deported without breaching the Convention.  During the EU Referendum campaign she argued that Britain should stay in the EU but leave the ECHR .  However, in launching her leadership campaign this morning she said “there is no parliamentary support” for resiling from ECHR so she will not pursue this idea.  This does not of course take repeal of the Human Rights Act off the table.

Boris Johnson (current odds 7/2 William Hill, 4/1 Ladbrokes)

During the EU referendum campaign Johnson responded to Theresa May’s call to leave the ECHR arguing “We wrote it and actually I am a supporter of it.  I think it was one of the great things we gave to Europe. It was under Winston Churchill, it was a fine idea in the post-War environment.  I am not against the European Convention or indeed the Court because it’s very important for us – the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights do not have to be applied either by the UK courts or by the UK Parliament.  The judgements of the European Court in Luxembourg do and Luxembourg is supreme  Keep the European Convention, it’s a fine thing. Get out of the EU.”

It’s worth however noting that Boris was until very recently of the view that the UK should remain in the European Union, and it is suggested may still be of that view.

Michael Gove  (current odds 10/3 William Hill, 4/1 Ladbrokes)

As Justice Secretary Gove has indicated his opposition to leaving the ECHR and signals from his department suggested that any plans for a British Bill of Rights would involve modest reforms to the Human Rights Act rather than a radical overhaul.  He also began reversing policies of his predecessor Chris Grayling in relation to access to justice and developing a programme of prison reform.

Liam Fox (28/1 William Hill, 25/1 Ladbrokes)

Previously argued for repeal of the Human Rights Act to ‘restore Parliamentary sovereignty’

Andrea Leadsome (6/1 William Hill, 12/1 Ladbrokes)

Unclear, but her ‘They work for you’ entry says that she has ‘generally voted against laws that promote equality and human rights’.

Stephen Crabb (16/1 William Hill, 16/1 Ladbrokes)

Crabb’s website says that he ‘believes in a firm but fair approach to immigration. He supports changes to the Human Rights Act to stop it being abused by illegal immigrants.’  He opposed equal marriage and first entered Parliament as an intern when working for the group The Christian Action Research and Education charity (Care) which “actively supports and encourages marriage between a man and a woman”, and once co-sponsored a conference that looked at “therapeutic approaches to same-sex attraction”.

Nicky Morgan 66/1 William Hill, 66/1 Ladbrokes

In an interview with Pink News during the EU referendum campaign Morgan said in response to being asked ‘Do you think we should remain a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights?’

“Yes – look, we’re going to have a debate about the British Bill of Rights. The Queen’s Speech last week made it clear we are going to introduce one. All I’ll say on that is as a country we have a very long and proud tradition of respecting human rights. I think we should be looking to enhance human rights, and that’s what the British Bill of Rights will do. But what we’ve seen under the Labour Party’s Human Rights Act has been a distortion – human rights have lost credibility because of the way the HRA has worked.”

Jeremy Hunt (66/1 William Hill, 66/1 Ladbrokes)

Hunt’s position on human rights is unclear.

So, current analysis suggests that the majority of the leadership contenders, and especially those with the greatest chance of winning, do not propose to leave the ECHR.  Do not be lulled into a false sense of security though.  The UK can remain party to the Convention whilst seriously weakening its domestic application via a British Bill of Rights.  There is still a great deal to play for.


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