Dear Mr ZahawiI am writing to you as one of your constituents who has grave concerns over the Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act (1998), with the intention of replacing it with a more UK centric Bill of Rights.I have studied your rhetoric on Europe and my understanding is that your position is moderately Eurosceptical. For the sake of clarity, I will say that I agree with you that Britain’s best interests lie with us remaining as part of the European Parliament, but whilst I am also in agreement that the EU and European Parliament need reform and that the best solution lies in not “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, I am generally less sceptical than you and disagree with you on where the “baby” ends and the “bathwater” begins. Whilst I hope to obtain your support on the basis of my own argument, I accept that a more convincing case may be to illustrate to you how Britain’s position within the EU may be threatened by the consequences of a successful repeal of the Human Rights Act.My concerns on the matter of the Government’s position over the Human Rights Act date back to 2011, where I set out my thoughts at the time on my blog, www.nickssanctuary.com.In 2011, when this first became an issue for me, the Home Secretary attempted to convince the public that a Bolivian individual escaped deportation on the basis of owning a cat (when in fact the cat was merely cited as a minor example on a very long list of criteria illustrating that a human relationship the individual in question had, was genuine and thus fell under the right to family life), it became apparent to me that the reasons for trying to repeal the HRA were ideological and not merely practical. The argument most proponents for the intent to repeal make, is that it is simply a transfer of jurisdiction about where and who determines the same rights. I believe this is a straw man argument - a selling point that highlights a potential beneficial consequence of a repeal that conceals its actual purpose. Besides, it is our own judges who uphold rulings like these and so the issue is not about who interprets these laws, but on the laws themselves.When you look at the primary text of the HRA, there is nothing wrong in principle at all with it, we would be right to frown on anybody who objected to them. However, if the HRA is being misinterpreted, it is only because civil case law has gradually, over time, eroded or mutated its intent. I have little doubt that the same fate would eventually await any British Bill of Rights.We must always be aware that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Even if the reasons for repealing the HRA were noble (something I do not accept), by committing to this course of action we would set a precedent for countries with a far more disturbing human rights record to emulate us. Great Britain helped lead the way in bettering human rights. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we helped secure the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it was a British citizen who subsequently helped forge the document that became the European Convention on Human Rights. It would be shameful if having played such a significant role in bringing other nations into the light, we enabled the door to swing the other way and became facilitators for nations pining for the darkness.What happens when we start deciding that for whatever reason, on principle, one human being has more value than another? Is it not a slippery slope that has potential to result in dark episodes?
We must also take the long view with regard to this legislation. If a Bill of Rights becomes something malleable that successive Governments can use to further their own private agendas then even if it were used for a good purpose, the spectre that a more questionable or nefarious use for it would always hang over it. If Government overplays its role in scrutinising who and what is acceptable, the very notion of who is protected by the Bill of Rights becomes a movable feast and this is dangerous.
I don't necessarily oppose the composition of a Bill of Rights as it could be a useful tool to accompany the HRA in defining the responsibilities that accompany the freedoms. However, I don't see why it should need to replace the HRA. The Act doesn't just defend my rights; if I abuse the rights of another, then the Act works against me too. In fact technically, the legislation could be protected against the politicians who wish to do away with it:“If any of these rights and freedoms are breached, you have a right to an effective solution in law, even if the breach was by someone in authority, such as, for example, a police officer”.Does that not suggest that if the Government (being a lawmaker and source of authority), tries to repeal the Act, then they are actually violating our existing statutory human rights and are prosecutable themselves? In my view the only legitimate way around this would be to hold a referendum. If the electorate clearly demonstrate by two thirds majority that they ultimately reject HRA, then I could see (regrettably), a case for doing something about it, but that mandate at the moment is far from clear.
These are my arguments for retaining the current legislation but as I said earlier, I recognise that if I’m to win your support, I must make a different case and this is it:As a moderate Eurosceptic, you appear to believe that we have a place within the existing EU and that in the case of a referendum; you would prefer us to stay within it. I put it to you that should the law pass within Britain our position within Europe would be threatened from other influential nations within the EU. I also put it to you that should the law fail to pass, less moderate Eurosceptic rhetoric will gain more traction and the influence of Europe may be used as a scapegoat to deflect or embellish embarrassment over Government defeat… this would likely have an adverse effect on the subsequent referendum to remain within the EU. If Great Britain did regrettably exit the European Union, I believe that then and only then would be the a more reasonable time to have a Bill of Rights in place as a legislative successor to the HRA.In conclusion then, I ask once again for your support. I would be extremely grateful for a response on this occasion; in the past I have tried communicating with you via email and Twitter and whilst I recognise that the latter isn’t the best format for formal political engagement, I am deeply disappointed not to have had the courtesy of a reply to my previous correspondence. I apologise for the somewhat lengthy nature of this letter but I hope the amount of time I have taken to write this demonstrates the level of feeling I and many like me have on this matter.Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I would be grateful if you would consider what I have to say and let me know how you intend to proceed.Kind regardsYours sincerelyNick Payne
Incidentally I have also dispatched similar letters (modified to reflect party position and general commentary), to David Cameron, Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas, Alex Salmond, Jonathan Edwards, Tom Watson and Stella Creasy). I did so in deference to their position as respective leaders of their parties or in the case of the latter two MPs, because I have a modicum of respect for some of the notable high profile work they have done as individuals.
I additionally intend to follow these efforts up by corresponding with Justin Welby, John Sentamu and Prince Charles.
I will keep you up to date as to any response I receive. In the meantime here are a few links to some campaigns if you want to show some support... and a couple of questions for feedback here:
- What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the Government proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a UK Bill of Rights?
- Are you planning on doing anything to make your views known?