THE BLOG

Walking Away From the ECHR Would Mean Closing Ourselves Off to the World

09/12/2014 17:37 GMT | Updated 08/02/2015 10:59 GMT

10 December 1948 rightly has its place in the history books. It was on this day that the United Nations adopted the world's first statement of basic human values for each and every person on the planet, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR, or the Magna Carta for Mankind as it was described, has gone on to have a profound impact on people's lives across the globe. It contains a clear set of fundamental freedoms such as the right to life, freedom of speech and equality before the law. Such is the impact of the UDHR, it's now the second most translated document ever, after the Bible!

We owe a debt of gratitude to the vision shown by our political leaders in the post-war years. Because of the UK's determination to prevent a repeat of the atrocities committed against civilian populations during the 1930s and 1940s, we led the way in establishing international protections for people's fundamental rights.

We were one of the first signatories to the UDHR. And within a few years, UK lawyers and politicians drafted the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which has gone on to protect the basic rights of 800million people across the continent.

While we rightly celebrate today, all is not rosy. Forces close to home are intent on weakening people's rights here, and undermining our standing abroad. The Tories are threatening to walk away from the ECHR and rip up our Human Rights Act (HRA), replacing it with a weaker Bill of Rights.

For the Tories, human rights have become two dirty words. To them our proud role in promoting human rights seems an embarrassment. They don't see the contradiction between talking up Britain's proud role as a standard bearer for freedom, liberty and the rule of law and their desire to scale back individual rights, whilst concentrating greater power in the hands of the Executive.

The Tories see no double standards in celebrating the 800th anniversary next year of a Magna Carta whose provisions are pretty much redundant today, while wanting to walk away from the ECHR and rip up the Human Rights Act, both of which are providing genuine protection of people's rights, here and now.

There is a Tory dishonesty about the impact of their plans. They amount to a weakening of rights - a future Conservative Government would decide who is worthy of having their rights protected, and which rights are important enough to protect. From the party of the bedroom tax, to tax cuts for millionaires, to the failing Work Programme, it's not hard to see which kinds of people would be affected. It'd be the marginalised, the poor, victims of crime, workers, the disabled, the downtrodden and the sick who'd be stripped of their rights.

But it's not for a Tory government to decide who is deserving. Our politicians settled this debate 70 years ago - the same rights apply to each and every person, regardless of their colour, gender, sexuality or nationality.

Of course as a politician, the conclusions of judges can sometimes be inconvenient. I certainly won't always agree with them. I believe the European Court was wrong recently to conclude that prisoners should have the right to vote. But the prospect of Chris Grayling, Theresa May or David Cameron deciding chills me with fear. We must resist this naked grab for power.

Walking away from the ECHR would mean closing ourselves off to the world. This reverses centuries of history and is so very un-British. Turning our backs on the ECHR would also give succour to those governments in Europe and around the world only too eager to undermine their citizen's human rights. Our moral authority to press other countries on their human rights record - a cornerstone of our foreign policy - would be chopped off at the knees.

I've said repeatedly that the European Court of Human Rights needs to reform - the quality of the judges needs to improve and they should be better at appreciating where decisions are best made by national governments but this does not mean abandoning our human rights. This Tory game of brinkmanship with Ukip and their growing isolationism could see the unravelling of the post-war human rights framework that has served Europe so well. Do we really want that on our conscience?

I'm proud of Labour's role in promoting human rights. And I'm doubly proud we stand firm in our support for the HRA and the ECHR. A vote for the Tories is a vote for weakening the rights of the British people, would give free rein to ministers to do as they please regardless of people's basic dignity, and would risk the freedoms of millions of people abroad. In my view, that's a monumental gamble not worth risking.