On defending human rights, let’s get to work

Oh where to start…..

….Corbyn has defied his critics – this writer included – and denied Theresa May the majority she clearly anticipated securing via the snap election.  So far so hurray.  Britain has not lurched to the right.  UKIP voters came back to the Labour rather than moving their votes to the Tories and Labour’s manifesto was able to attract both the young and middle class voters.

But May has clung onto power, for now, via a so called ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party.   So where does this leave the Human Rights Act and the UK’s ongoing commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights?

Despite May’s personal desire for the UK to leave the ECHR, the Tory manifesto ruled this out for the duration of the next Parliament (however long or short that might be), said that a Tory government would not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act until after Brexit, but promised to review the domestic human rights framework.   Given her slimmest of majorities, the diversity of views within her own Party on the matter and the fact that the lack of specificity in the manifesto offers free reign to the House of Lords to oppose reform proposals, it would seem highly unlikely reform will be on the agenda.  The DUP has in the past given public support to the Conservative policy of repealing the Human Rights Act, but as with Brexit, it seems likely adherence to the Good Friday Agreement would prove an obstacle to their supporting actual reforms.

Nevertheless, as we saw in the days leading up to the election following the terrorist attack at London Bridge, the lack of real intent to repeal or reform does not stop the posturing that has characterised her and her Party’s position on human rights for the past decade or more.  Indeed, should the arrangement between the Tories and DUP prove unsustainable and a further election takes place soon, it seems highly likely the Tories would offer a combination of ‘one nation’ policies alongside ‘enough is enough’ policies on law, order and security, with reform of human rights law centre stage once more.

The toxic public discourse this long run phoney war has helped nurture has done deep damage to public confidence in our human rights laws and the institutions that exist to protect them, setting the stage for regressive reforms down the line.  It will continue to do so without concerted action by human rights defenders and their allies to change the narrative and build and mobilise new alliances across society and the political spectrum.

As someone has just said, let’s get to work











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