What Cameron said about human rights today – and what he might have said instead

by Carl Gardner on October 1, 2014

Here’s the human rights passage from David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative conference today. He gave no detail, but seemed to signal that the Conservatives will choose what earlier this week I called Option 2 – the relatively moderate choice of amending the Human Rights Act and relabelling it a “British Bill of Rights” without attempting to dilute Britain’s international law obligations. That’s the stance the Tories have had for some years now, though what their Bill of Rights would contain has never been explained. Apparently, more detail will be announced tomorrow.

And here’s what he might have said.

Before I turn to the European Union, let me talk about something else that’s needed sorting out – the European Court of Human Rights.

 When that charter was written, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it set out the basic rights we should respect. 

But since then, interpretations of that charter have led to a whole lot of things that are frankly wrong.

Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists.
 And they want to give prisoners the vote.

 I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. Our Parliament – the British Parliament – decided they shouldn’t have that right.

Let me put this very clearly. This is the country that wrote Magna Carta, the country that time and again has stood up for human rights, whether liberating Europe from fascism or leading the charge today against sexual violence in war. We do not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg.

Now, some people said we had to accept just that, that the European court was unreformable, that we had to give in to all its most bonkers judgments or somehow be an outcast among civilised nations.

But at the Brighton conference a couple of years ago we did get agreement for change. The European court will now hear fewer cases, focus on real human rights breaches, and give new respect to the choices of democratic Parliaments. We’ve one man to thank for that – our great negotiator, Ken Clarke. We don’t always agree on Europe, Ken, but you secured a good deal for Britain.

They said if Parliament stuck to its guns on prisoners’ votes, it’d cost the taxpayer £100 million. Remember that? But only a few weeks ago the European court decided that, while it continues to disagree with me – and that’s fine, so long as it respects our democracy – prisoners who make claims won’t get compensation, and their human rights lawyers won’t be paid costs. Common sense at last.

And our own judges are now clear they can assert our own common law rather than slavishly follow everything Strasbourg says. For the most evil criminals life can mean life, they’ve ruled, even if that makes foreign judges queazy. We can agree to disagree. So we’re winning the fight for common sense, here and in Europe.

The man who’s made the weather on this, who spoke for Britain in our own courts and in Strasbourg, and whose tireless advocacy has overcome the naysayers, is our outstanding Conservative Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

Last but not least, we all saw with our own eyes that all too familiar bearded face peering through the porthole as he fastened his seatbelt on a flight to Jordan. Let’s hear it for the woman who made it happen: our crime-busting Home Secretary, Theresa May.

So to those who say this party can’t deliver change in Europe, I say: look at what we’ve already done on human rights. We stood up for Britain and we are winning the argument. We can and we will do the same in the European Union.

Unfortunately he’s spent so much time flirting with departure from the ECHR, tacking towards UKIP and radicalising his own party (not to mention sacking his widely respected legal chief) that he couldn’t say anything like this. He’s made his government’s quite successful policy look like surrender; and dare not explain what seems to be his party’s relatively moderate policy at its own conference.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Brian Barder October 2, 2014 at 10:02

Brilliant! Well said indeed. How treacherous and disloyal of Cameron to sack both Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, the two recognisable human beings in his Cabinet, in a futile attempt to please and pacify the Neanderthal tendency on his own back benches!

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