Ed Davey: The Lib Dems will fight against renewed Tory attempts to abolish the Human Rights Act

Posted On: 
25th January 2019

For British soldiers, Hillsborough families and victims of the Stafford hospital scandal, the Human Rights Act has been vital. We must protect it as it protects us, says Ed Davey

Desperation over Brexit explains the timing of this latest assault on the Human Rights Act, but it is a long-held cause for Theresa May, writes Ed Davey
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David Cameron first started advocating repeal of the Human Rights Act in 2006 – less than six years after it first came into force. Tory attempts to scrap the act have been struck down many times since, not least by the Liberal Democrats when we were in government.

And yet it keeps rising up again, zombie-like, whenever Tory leaders feel the need to appease their right-wing base.

You don’t have to be much of a cynic to think that’s what Theresa May is trying to do now. Last week, just as the prime minister was recovering from her historic 230-vote defeat on her Brexit deal, a House of Lords committee published a letter from the government confirming that the Tories plan to have another go at repealing the Human Rights Act if and when the UK has left the European Union.

Of course, there’s no reason to link the Human Rights Act to Brexit. The Human Rights Act is UK legislation that incorporates into domestic law the rights set out in the European convention on human rights – which far pre-dates the European Union and is unrelated to our EU membership.

The only connection is that bashing the Human Rights Act tickles the tummies of the same Tory Brexiteers whom Theresa May is trying to win round to support her deal. Floating it now is confirmation that the prime minister has chosen to chase their votes rather than building a genuine cross-party consensus.

Desperation over Brexit explains the timing of this latest assault on the Human Rights Act, but it is a long-held cause for Theresa May. As home secretary, she frequently blamed it for impeding her seemingly insatiable quest to deport as many people as possible.

She even once claimed that the Human Rights Act prevented someone being deported because he had a pet cat. “I’m not making this up,” she said. But, of course, she was. The judgment in question had nothing to do with a cat. It didn’t even have anything to do with the Human Rights Act either.

Undeterred by the facts, Cameron and May continued to push for repeal of the act throughout the coalition years. It was a bad idea then, and it’s still a bad idea today. The Liberal Democrats successfully protected the Human Rights Act when we were in government, and we continue to lead the fight to save it now – because the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights are vital for protecting fundamental British rights and freedoms.

After all, the convention was largely a British creation, advocated by Winston Churchill and co-written by David Maxwell Fyfe, a Conservative MP who would become Churchill’s home secretary. The UK was the very first country to ratify it in 1951.

The right to a fair trial; to keep your private life private; to marry the person you love. Bans on torture, discrimination and forced labour. Freedom of religion and expression. The European convention on human rights enshrines all these and more, and the Human Rights Act allows us to enforce them in UK courts.

It was thanks to the Human Rights Act that the families of those who died because of poor care at Stafford hospital secured an inquiry, which led to major improvements in accountability and patient safety.

It was thanks to the Human Rights Act that the supreme court ruled that the government has a duty to properly equip British soldiers when it sends them into combat.

And it was thanks to the Human Rights Act that the families of the 96 victims of Hillsborough finally got the truth.

These successes – and many others like them – are why the Liberal Democrats are standing up for the Human Rights Act against this renewed Tory attempt to abolish it. Maybe this time we can kill off their terrible idea for good. 

Ed Davey is Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, and home affairs spokesperson