Brexiteer slams ‘anti-democratic’ EU ‘lecturing’ UK on human rights

Former MEP Ben Habib slammed the European Union as an “inherently anti-democratic institution” with no right to lecture the UK on human rights amid reports many in Brussels have expressed concerns about the Illegal Migration Bill. The proposed legislation, defended by Downing Street who insists the Government continues to abide by its international legal obligations on asylum, would change the law to make it clear that people arriving in the UK illegally will not be able to remain there. The bill has come under fire from both the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as it progresses through Parliament. Diplomats in the EU have also expressed concern, though the ECHR is not an EU institution.

But Mr Habib argued the bloc should not be concerned about the UK’s relationship with the ECHR.

He told “What business is it of the EU whether the UK is in or out of the ECHR? How dare they lecture us on human rights obligations? Let’s just get a few things into perspective.

“First, the ECHR exists as a response to German aggression and its human rights abuses in World War 2. No one could question the United Kingdom when it comes to upholding these rights. We were at the forefront of their establishment and freed the people of Europe from Nazi tyranny.

“The fact is the European Court of Human Rights is no longer a promoter and protector of those rights. It makes up laws on the hoof and adjudicates on matters over which it has no genuine jurisdiction. It should never have been allowed to become the supreme legal adjudicator in these matters in the UK.

“When we voted for Brexit, we did not vote for a new treaty with the EU obliging us to remain committed to the ECHR.”

However, Mr Habib said, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement struck by Boris Johnson had a commitment to the ECHR “embedded” into it.

He added: “The EU, an inherently anti-democratic institution, has been given many sticks with which to beat the UK through the terms of the TCA – staying in the ECHR is one of them.”

Mr Habib, who served as a Brexit Party MEP, also hit out at Rishi Sunak’s Government, accused of being “cowed” by the EU.

He continued: “It is Sunak’s fear of the EU that has, in large part, motivated his Government entirely to undermine the Illegal Migration Bill. This Bill does not do what it says on the tin. It will be found to be as ineffective as all similarly aimed legislation before it. Buried in the document is a carve-out for ECHR rulings [Section 51 of the Bill’s latest iteration, for those interested in fact-checking me].

“Our Government will never take any decisive action which promotes British national interests if doing so would risk upsetting the EU. Sunak sold Northern Ireland down the drain with the Windsor Framework rather than take on the EU. He has shirked removing EU laws from our statute books.”

The Prime Minister, Mr Habib believes, will “never remove the European Court of Human Rights”.

The ex-MEP blistering remarks came as a senior diplomat from a “powerful” EU country told Politico the bloc is “really worried about it”.

The diplomat added: “For us, there is no partial application of the European Convention of Human Rights. We really hope that Rishi Sunak understands the political significance of that issue.”

The message had been “communicated clearly” to the UK government who “took note”, they added.

Critics dismissed the Bill as unworkable but right-wing Tory MPs believe the legislation does not go far enough, with some calling for ministers to take the UK out of the ECHR to gain tighter border controls.

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Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accused the ECHR of “undermining a democratically-elected Government” after her plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was blocked last year.

The Home Secretary said she wanted to avoid a “re-run” ahead of a debate in Parliament on Wednesday about an amendment to the Bill which would give the Government powers to ignore the Strasbourg court’s rulings.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said that, if the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill is successful, they would “not put a limit” to the number of migrants they could deport to Rwanda.

She said: “If you look at Australia – once they were able to swiftly detain and remove people from Australian territory, their numbers of illegal arrivals fell dramatically in a relatively short period of time. That’s why deterrence is a key ingredient. It is an uncapped scheme so we are not putting a limit on the number of people who can be relocated to Rwanda.

“We saw last year an unacceptable situation whereby the Home Secretary made a decision to relocate people to Rwanda and that decision was upheld in the courts, injunctions were refused by the English courts and, at the 11th hour, pursuant to an opaque process in which the UK was not represented, a judge in Strasbourg overruled that decision, undermining a democratically-elected government and a decision to take appropriate action.

“We want to avoid a re-run of that scenario. That’s why we have included measures in our Bill to afford the Home Secretary a discretion to consider the case upon its particular merits and circumstances.”

The EHRC said it remains “seriously concerned” that the Bill could put the UK in breach of its international legal obligations and that some of the proposals contained in the legislation were “particularly worrying”.

Asked about the legislation being criticised by the Council of Europe, Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “We cannot allow a system to continue which incentivises people to risk their lives and pay people smugglers to come here illegally. We cannot have a system which is unfair to the thousands of people who are coming here through safe and legal routes who see their positions usurped by those who come here illegally who are sometimes not as vulnerable as they are.”

Asked whether there is reason to leave the jurisdiction of the ECHR, they said: “We continue to act within our international obligations. We’ve clarified the position on Rule 39. In parallel, we are continuing discussions with Strasbourg in regards to Rule 39 and its application.”

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s committee on migration, refugees and displaced persons described the right to seek asylum as “a fundamental right” as it claimed the Bill would “deny protection to asylum seekers who entered the UK unauthorised, including victims of trafficking” if it passed.

It added: “The Bill also foresees a greater use of detention in border management including for children. The provisions of this Bill are a wilful distortion of core UN and European conventions which the UK itself contributed to designing.

“Its provisions would jeopardise the right to an effective remedy, breach the non-refoulement principle, endanger victims of forced labour and modern slavery, and strip international protection seekers of their right to seek asylum, with no regard for the best interest of the child.

“The Government-proposed amendment to the Bill announced this week, which puts into question the obligation under Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights to respect interim measures, is of immense concern.

“Non-discrimination, non-penalisation and non-refoulement are the pillars of the Refugee Convention, requiring effective access to fair and individualised procedures.

“In practice, applying such core principles may prove challenging to state and local authorities in seeking to determine individual applications fairly.

“Nevertheless, the repeated legislative changes in the UK are resulting in removing much-needed protection for refugees and victims of trafficking, severely disrespecting fundamental human rights standards. Such measures are not a valid policy response to the issues at stake.”

The Refugee Council and Barnardo’s estimated the Bill could lead to the detention of nearly 15,000 lone migrant children over the next three years.

The calculations by the two charities were based on there being the same number of Channel crossings as last year (45,755), when 5,242 asylum applications were made on behalf of unaccompanied children.

The warnings come as the battle over the legality of the Rwanda deal continues with a four-day Court of Appeal hearing which began on Monday.

The Government’s plan to send migrants to the east African nation – a policy ruled lawful by High Court judges – has so far been stalled by legal action and no flights have taken off.

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