‘Britain should not leave the ECHR – it protects people not Governments,’ writes Bill Rammell

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

‘Britain should not leave the ECHR – it protects people not Governments,’ writes Bill Rammell

Wikipedia Commons
Bill Rammell

By Bill Rammell

Published: 19/05/2024

- 06:00

The former Labour Minister suggests leaving would risk shattering the Good Friday Agreement

Tory right-wingers, increasingly detached from the historic position of the Conservatives as defenders of institutions and the rule of law, clammer for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

And in lobbying for us to leave, they are driven by their fury that some ECHR rulings make the implementation of their Rwanda scheme-a gimmick by any other name which will not stop the boats-more difficult.

Are they right in wanting us to leave the ECHR? In my view and indeed the view of most Tory MPs and Ministers emphatically not.

And a clear majority of the public does not want us to leave the ECHR. According to polling, 57 per cent say the UK should remain part of the ECHR, and even more than 80 per cent of people who voted Tory in 2019 don’t think leaving the ECHR should be a Top 5 priority for a Tory Government. So, in their frenetic urgency to leave the ECHR, the Bravermans, the Jenricks, the Nick Timothys, the Dominic Cummings all come across as a wee bit whacky and extreme, and they further alienate the Tories from the centre ground of British politics, which you need at least to be on speaking terms with to have any hope of winning a General Election.

The ECHR was drafted in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, to protect people from the State, making sure the atrocities committed would never be repeated, and to safeguard fundamental rights. That was a justified and justifiable view then and now it's about protecting people from an overbearing and abusive State.

\u200bRishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak vowed to quit the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if Strasbourg continues to block attempts to get flights to Rwanda


Our country was instrumental in drafting and creating the ECHR, with drafting being largely under the Supervision of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, we were the first country to ratify the convention in 1951, and Lord McNair, a British legal scholar, became the first President of the European Court of Human Rights in 1959. Winston Churchill was an early advocate. So rather than being a foreign-imposed convention, we the UK shaped and drove it.

The ECHR mandates protection for the Right to Life, the Prohibition of Torture, of slavery, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to participate in free elections, the right to freedom of expression - which of these do the Tory ultras have a problem with?

The ECHR protects British Citizens but also helps promote international standards of equality, fairness, and justice. A good thing. Just think back to our recent history, with the Berlin Wall dividing democracies from the tyranny of the Eastern bloc, to realise how important the ECHR is.

The ECHR is also embedded in the Good Friday Agreement. Leaving would risk shattering the agreement which has brought peace to Northern Ireland.

I said that Tory anger with the ECHR which fuels the desire to leave has been driven by what the ECHR and the Court do with regard to Rwanda. Yet remember the Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda was an unsafe destination for asylum seekers, declared this breached UK domestic law as well as the ECHR. Do these right-wing Tories want our country to be one where there is no rule of law? It sometimes seems so.

And look which countries have left the ECHR - Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and Greece under the dictatorship of the Generals (Greece of course subsequently rejoined). Is that really the company - contemptuous of democracy and human rights as it is - we want to keep?

And if they succeeded in getting the UK to leave the ECHR, where next for the Tory extremists? The WTO, NATO, the UN? All bodies which constrain our theoretical but not practical sovereignty. It’s a Tory version of “Stop the world, I want to get off”.

The ECHR protects people, British people, not Governments. We should not leave.

You may like