Current Affairs Politics

No Human Rights, No Belfast Agreement, No Peace Process

Britain's death squads in Ireland
Council of Europe member states, as of 2009

The Lallands Peat Worrier has written a lengthy post excoriating the Conservative Party in Britain following prime minister David Cameron’s suggestion that a future Tory administration in London might withdraw the country from the remit of the European Convention on Human Rights or ECHR.  This international judicial treaty is enormously unpopular on the right-wing of British politics and media so pandering to that sentiment in a generally Europhobic country is something of an electoral no-brainer. LPW angrily characterises those supporting the proposals as “ utter scumbags”. The problem for the “scumbags” is Britain’s commitment to the ECHR as part of the British-administrated justice system in the north-east of Ireland, and by extension Britain itself, through the all-party Belfast Agreement of 1998:

United Kingdom Legislation

2. The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.

4. The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission… will be invited to consult and to advise on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

Britain cannot derogate from the ECHR without partly reneging on the Belfast Agreement which would infuriate the Irish Nationalist community, the government of Ireland, etc. and almost certainly bring the ever-more shaky edifice at Stormont tumbling down. The only option would be for the British to single out “Northern Ireland” for separate legislation retaining its ECHR position, thereby proving that it really is a place apart. Which would of course infuriate the British Unionist community and again almost certainly bring the ever-more shaky edifice at Stormont tumbling down.

Would the Tories (and Lib Dems?) really sacrifice peace in the north-east of Ireland, and better relations between our two island nations, for electoral gains at home? Er, forget I said that

5 comments on “No Human Rights, No Belfast Agreement, No Peace Process

  1. am not sure withdrawal from the ECHR will actually go through –
    the proposal seems more like a magnet to attract votes –
    but of course it could, depending on who gets into government in the 2015 UK General Election.
    The reverberations of the VOW of Home Rule for Scotland and this proposal seem to indicate the Union (at least with NI) is on very shaky ground


  2. Haligonian

    It seems that Scotland will retain the Human Rights Act ( England/Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are separate legally, so maybe it will be possible to keep the HR law in two of the 3 subdivisions of the UK, while removing it in England and Wales.

    I do not think it will happen. There are two realistic alternatives in 2015: 1. a Labour government, which has no plans to scrap the HR act or 2. a Tory-led coalition with the Lib Dems (it’s highly unlikely the Tories will win an outright majority). To win another coalition, they’ll have to get rid of their plans – atleast for now.


    • Yes but the understanding implicit in the agreements (and treaties) surrounding the Irish-British peace process was the application of the ECHR to Britain as well as to the north-east of Ireland. That was to prevent abuses outside the remit of the ECHR (e.g. prisoners being transported from the north of Ireland to Britain for interrogation, incarceration, etc.).

      Unionist politicians would lose the plot if the EHCR was removed in Britain but not in “Northern Ireland”. They have opposed it from the get-go. It was a demand of the Irish and US governments on behalf of the Irish Nationalist community in the north-east that the Unionist and British side acceded to.

      A Labour victory looks likely. However a Conservative-UKIP-DUP-UUP-TUV coalition or minority Tory administration with Unionist support is (just about) possible.


      • The impression I get is that Westminster, the Tories especially, neither know nor really care very much about anything outside of England (and largely the SE at that), and quite frankly seem to be just making it up as they go along. Forget about the LibDem’s they’re toast, their rôle as a party of protest will in England by taken up by UKIP, at least until the English get round to thinking of something better.

        The dislike of the EHCR has been fed by the usual anti-European distortions and propaganda, e.g. “they now make 80% of our laws” etc. Although little things, like demanding that convicted criminals get to vote (hardly going to swing many elections?) just seems insane to any right-thinking Englishman. I’m not enough of a lawyer to really comment, but I imagine much of the trouble arises from the contrast between the English common law system and the continental system (Scots law being a hybrid apparently). Since England has no written constitution, any act of parliament can be repealed by a future parliament by a simple majority. The only way to establish unchangable rules or rules that can only be changed by some special procedure is through international treaties like the EHRC. In other words without such oversight British subjects would have no guaranteed rights whatsoever, it would all come down to political expediency.


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