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Collaboration with Europe is vital to strengthen human rights and the rule of law


4 min read

The Prime Minister recently attended the Reykjavik Summit, marking only the fourth time the Council of Europe has organised such a meeting since its establishment in 1949.

Despite initial scepticism within my Party (which I do not share), the Summit proved to be a success, showcasing the council's commitment to upholding democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This commitment was reflected in the final declaration, which was signed by the United Kingdom and the other 45 member states.

As the leader of the UK delegation, I have personally witnessed the invaluable work carried out by the Council of Europe, often unnoticed and unacknowledged, and have come to appreciate the advantages of its soft power.

Unfortunately, the Council of Europe remains relatively unknown in our country, often mistaken for an EU entity. It is disheartening that, for many in the UK, Europe has become synonymous solely with the EU. It is crucial to distinguish between these two distinct organisations.

Leaving the ECHR would diminish our international standing and align us with Russia and Belarus

Critics dismiss the Council of Europe as a mere talking shop, failing to recognise the significant achievements made through the efforts of its various bodies. The assembly, the committee of ministers, the court, GRECO (the anti-corruption body), GRETA (the anti-human trafficking body), and the Venice Commission all contribute to tangible results across member states.

What has our delegation accomplished? We achieved the expulsion of Russia, making the council the first international organisation to take such action. Additionally, we successfully persuaded the Turkish delegation to advocate for the admission of Sweden and Finland to Nato, a move that has proven particularly beneficial for Finland. Our delegation has garnered support for Kosovo from both the government and the opposition.

As a staunch multilateralist, I firmly reject the notion that any country can tackle challenges single-handedly. Platforms for discussions and exchanges of ideas are essential. Despite the current global attack on multilateralism, I stand by the belief that dialogue and collaboration are indispensable.

In the wake of the UK's departure from the European Union, the Council of Europe stands as one of the few remaining platforms for inter-European dialogue and cooperation. It serves as a vital link between our country and the 45 European independent nations.

In his speech at the Reykjavik Summit, the Prime Minister expressed our unwavering commitment, stating "the UK may have left the EU, but we have not left Europe. We remain a proud European nation, and we must work together to defend the values we all hold so dear."

In signing the Reykjavik Declaration our Prime Minister committed the UK to uphold the activities of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The document unequivocally states, "We reaffirm our deep and abiding commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as the ultimate guarantors of human rights across our continent, alongside our domestic democratic and judicial systems."

Leaving the ECHR, as some critics in my Party suggest, would diminish our international standing and align us with Russia and Belarus – not with those countries who have never joined it.

During the UK's previous presidency of the Council of Europe, under former prime minister David Cameron's leadership, we initiated the Brighton Declaration. This reform strengthened the behaviour of the court by incorporating the principles of subsidiarity and the importance of domestic courts within the convention. Familiarity with this declaration prior to the recent controversy would have facilitated a smoother process.

As leader of the UK delegation, I have worked to ensure that we remain committed to playing an active role in advancing the Council of Europe's aims and values, ensuring their integration into our system. Let us all embrace the vision set out for the council during the Summit and continue working towards a better Europe, where democracy, human rights, and the rule of law prevail.


John Howell, Conservative MP for Henley

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