For Liberals, 2016 has been a grim year. The EU Referendum provided a narrow win for Leave and the dogs of hate and prejudice were thereby released. Over in America, Donald Trump became President-elect, thanks to that country’s arcane electoral system. Several EU member states started to question the principle of free movement following a huge influx of refugees and migrants. But one of the worst things of all has been the performance of Theresa May since she took office as UK Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation. Although she was a lukewarm Remainer in the Referendum campaign, she has embraced the agenda of UKIP and the rabid Tory Right Brexiteers in her pursuance of the goal of a “hard” Brexit — in other words, for seeing a situation in which Britain will leave both the European single market and the customs union, even though this will have a devastating effect on the UK economy, especially the financial sector. She has put our EU partners’ backs up by the arrogance of her negotiating strategy, for example demanding that Britain retain a strong influence in Europol, and she has set an unrealistically tight deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which will not leave sufficient time for the preparation of a nuanced negotiating position (for which the UK does not have sufficient qualified civil servants anyway). Even more disturbing is Mrs May’s apparent determination to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that British legal experts were instrumental in its formulation and only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the ECHR. Moreover, it’s not only our European allies whom Theresa May is alienating. After the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an important speech criticising Israel for its settlements policy in occupied Palestine, Mrs May told him off, like some third-rate headmistress. The depth of her incompetence and stupidity is being revealed on a daily basis, yet still she blunders on, convinced that she knows best. The irony is that is was Mrs May who years ago warned the Conservatives that they were seen as the Nasty Party. Well, if the Prime Minister’s 2017 wish list comes about then it is going to prove itself to be even nastier.
Posts Tagged ‘ECHR’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th December, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th September, 2015
Simon Hughes was Justice Minister in the tail-end of the Coalition government and already we are missing his Liberal voice in that department. Today, however, at the National Liberal Club, members of the Kettner Society and their guests were treated to a fascinating exposition by him on the legacy of the Magna Carta. He wisely avoided dwelling too much on the history of the document itself, apart from enunciating clearly the three elements of it that remain a part of the British constitutional landscape: freedoms for the Church, freedoms for the City of London and boroughs, and, most important, what these days we would call civil liberties, not least the right of people to be tried by their peers (juries). Simon then set out the major milestones of the intervening 800 years, including the Speaker of the House of Commons standing up to Charles I, the Great Reform Act of 1832, the extension of suffrage in the 20th century and the important incorporation of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. These latter instruments the Conservatives would, of course, like to replace with a British Bill of Rights, despite the fact that much of the ECHR was largely framed by British jurists and leaving the convention would put the UK in a position not dissimilar to that of Belarus (as indeed the then Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, pointed out three years ago). Simon is nonetheless satisfied with most of the ways Britain’s constitutional framework and civil liberties have developed through history, though he thinks it would be useful to have a written constitution, if only so that schoolchildren would be able to learn the values and principles at the foundation of British society, as their counterparts in France and the United States do.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015
The British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015
One of the key policy areas many Liberal Democrats will be focussing on now we are in opposition to the Conservatives is human rights, which have been prominent in the campaigning values of both the national party and our wider Liberal International family. So it was timely that Lewisham Liberal Democrats this evening hosted a dinner in Blackheath at which the speaker was the recently knighted Simon Hughes, who was Minister for Justice for a short period before the May election. A lawyer by training, Simon had an interesting slant on the subject to help us finesse our campaigning tactics in that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a British Bill of Rights so long as that retains the core principles enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights (which was of course largely framed by British legal minds). As he told the gathering at the Everest Inn Nepalese restaurant, the Conservatives (with some noble exceptions) have been damning the Human Rights Act as a flawed Labour invention, which while technically true rather misses the point.
Simon also pointed out that with the exception of unqualified rights such as that against being subject to torture and degrading treatment most of the articles in the ECHR do have qualifications, which are often ignored or misrepresented by the more unscrupulous sections of the British Press. Most of the ‘scandals’ highlighted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have been related to Article 8 of the Convention, in particular regarding the right to a family life, but it is perfectly possible for British courts to make sound judgments without offending the principles of the Convention. There seemed to be a feeling among members present — many of whom had campaigned for Simon in his sadly unsuccessful attempt to retain his parliamentary seat in Old Southwark and Bermondsey — that the Conservatives are in danger of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue, though they may find changing our relationship to the ECHR difficult to get through the House of Lords. It would be crazy as well as self-defeating for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that message needs to be got over to the general public in an understandable way. At the end of the evening, instead of the conventional raffle, a collection was made for relief efforts in Nepal, in which the owner of Everest Inn has been involved, as the after-effects of the eathquake are still severe.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th March, 2015
When the International Office of the Liberal Democrats first mooted the idea of a fringe meeting at this weekend’s Spring conference in Liverpool on issues surrounding radical Islam some voices urged caution, fearful this could inflame tensions. But what is a Liberal party for, if not to stand up for the freedom of expression in a tolerant, diverse society? The recent bloody excesses of ISIS in Syria and Iraq — one of whose victims was the noble aid volunteer from my home town of Eccles, Alan Henning — have highlighted the need to tackle the scourge of Islamism head-on. This is absolutely not the same as criticising the religion Islam, whatever some critics might say. Islamism, the radical ideology that seeks to impose its own extreme interpretation if Islam on society is as far from the core values of Islam as the Spanish Inquisition was from the core values of Christianity. Indeed, as (Baroness) Kishwer Falkner — a secular Muslim LibDem peer of Pakistani origin — declared at the controversial fringe meeting last night, ISIS are essentially fascists, far more extreme than just extreme. Maajid Nawaz, the LibDem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the forthcoming general election also spoke passionately of the need to defend the right of people to have any religion or none, or even to change religion if they wish — though apostasy is a capital offence in some conservative Islamic states. Such issues were reprised in a plenary debate at the conference this morning, when a very detailed motion on protecting freedom of expression was overwhelmingly passed. I spoke in that debate, highlighting the fact that journalism has become a much more dangerous occupation than when I first started as a teenage cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News in Vietnam. These days, journalists are often deliberately targetted, not just in the Middle East but in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia. It is essential that we champion the principles of free expression enshrined in both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including in relation to the media. As the late US statesman Adlai Stevenson once said, a free press is the mother of our liberties — something we should bear in mind this Mothering Sunday.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Adlai Stevenson, Alan Henning, apostasy, Christianity, ECHR, Hampstead and Kilburn, ISIS, Islam, Islamism, Kishwer Falkner, Liberal International, Liverpool, Maajid Nawaz | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013
The fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”). I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.