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Peter Kyle: Leaving the European Convention on Human Rights would do untold damage to our global reputation

4 min read

The government is in chaos, if it can be said to be governing at all. Ministers are nowhere to be seen, either checked-out early ahead of September’s reshuffle or consumed with the leadership campaign. They’re failing in their duty to our country.

Putting animus to one side, the Tory leadership race itself is notable for how disconnected it is from the priorities of most voters.  

The most startling example is Suella Braverman, who made quitting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) the central plank of her leadership campaign. Following in her wake, Liz Truss has said she might revisit our membership, too. 

Talk of leaving the ECHR should worry us all. Siding with Russia and Belarus against a membership that includes every other European nation would not only look eccentric while Putin wages his illegal war in Ukraine, but also mark a dramatic pivot away from our longstanding commitments to the rule of law.  

The Tories treat the Good Friday Agreement as a plaything, invoked to suit whichever political fight they are waging

Our reputation is precious. Trust that the United Kingdom will stand by its word and play by the rules matters. That ministers are flirting with the idea of leaving the ECHR sends yet another dismal signal to our international allies and partners that we are unreliable and in retreat. Every British citizen should worry too, because it marks the latest in a long line of Tory attacks against vital institutions providing the checks and balances to the executive.  

For Labour, our commitment to remaining in the ECHR is an expression of our unwavering commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Delivering the agreement is one of Labour’s proudest achievements in government, and the ECHR and the Human Rights Act that incorporates it into UK Law is the scaffolding that upholds it. Offering up this vital element of the peace process to score cheap political points with the party’s right flank is another reminder that the Tories treat the Good Friday Agreement as a plaything, invoked to suit whichever political fight they are waging. It is deeply hurtful to people in Northern Ireland, and all of us who care about its future. 

Faced with this disunity, I asked ministers to clarify the government’s position. They confirmed its commitment to the ECHR as part of its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. Since, and despite Cabinet ministers stating the opposite, they have gone on reiterate this position not once but twice highlighting the total breakdown of any kind of functioning government.

For the little that their word is worth, this government’s stated position at least seems clear. 

So, while Braverman may be out of the leadership race, she is – mystifyingly – still in the cabinet. In any government other than this one, such a shocking departure from the government position would see a minister either resign on principle or sacked. As justice minister Lord Bellamy archly put it in a debate on Thursday, "It appears that the convention that all government ministers speak collectively on behalf of the government is de facto in suspense when there is a leadership contest going on. I am not really able to comment any further, except to say that it is a very curious position that has arisen.” 

Braverman is the Attorney General; her job is to give impartial legal advice to the government. So how can the government – let alone the public – possibly trust her word? It matters, and it matters right now because this government is still pressing ahead with the legally contentious Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. By all expert accounts, the bill would break international law and yet this discredited, squalid caretaker government is forcing it through in the little time that remains before summer recess. 

While the Tories may have promised a bonfire of red tape, all they have set fire to is the conventions that have made our country so agile, stable and successful. This situation tells us everything we need to know about the Tory party today: the complete abdication of responsibility – for the commitments they have made to our international allies, to their colleagues in the cabinet, and to the British people. It’s time for fresh leadership with Labour. 


Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove and shadow Northern Ireland secretary.

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