BREXIT: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights to Become Civil Maybe’s
By Graham Vanbergen – Last year a coalition of 175 civil society organisations criticised Britain for an “increasing concern that the UK’s political rhetoric will, if not checked, threaten the coherence and credibility of the post-second world war human rights settlement.” They were not wrong. Then, the United Nations stated that a “high proportion of the 132 recommendations from the last UN hearings in 2012 have not been implemented by Britain.”
For anyone waiting for politician’s to work together to make Britain great again after Brexit, don’t hold your breath. The politicians are not in control of proceedings. Britain will not join the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement (such as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), jurisdiction of the European court will end and with it uncontrolled immigration from the EU. Brexit means Brexit. Maybe, maybe not.
Critics will change their tune from “the lack of a plan” to “the wrong plan”. The noise will continue for years to come. The Tories will fight each other, Labour will do the same, and will effectively hand the Tories with another victory at the next election whilst providing no real opposition. No other political party of note will rise. The centre ground is abandoned even though both claim it and one-party politics will reign for years to come. Maybe.
One thing we can be sure of is that a secretive network of business lobbyists who have cast their dark shadow over American politics and way of life, with tentacles reaching deeply into the British Conservative party are planning and plotting a Brexit that plays directly into their hands. Brexit is their big opportunity. And that is a definite.
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Human Rights legislation, as the government have already confirmed, will be replaced with a “British Bill of Rights” and long, hard fought over civil rights and civil liberties will become ‘civil maybe’s’. Surveillance is a good example. Britain is already the most surveilled country not just in the western world but the entire planet due to its scale and sophistication not yet acquired by other countries. Privacy is no longer a civil liberty but is now shrouded in ambiguous laws, in other words a ‘civil maybe’. The government does not design or manufacture surveillance systems, corporations do. Hundreds of private companies and government agencies have access to your personal data. You as a citizen no longer know what privacy you are entitled to.
A new type of politics is being fostered that will be even more destructive to the welfare of what was once considered a free and open society. Another example is the NHS. The NHS is not being made more efficient by government to save money, it is being starved of cash to create a crisis that allows private corporations to solve the problem and profit from it. Health care in Britain is no longer a civil right because it depends on what you are suffering from and where you live and if the NHS has enough resources to apply it to you personally – now your health service is a civil maybe.
Not sure if access to healthcare in Britain is a civil right? “If you are ill or injured, there will be a national health service there to help; and access to it will be based on need and need alone – not on your ability to pay, or on who your GP happens to be or on where you live.” – The New NHS: Modern, Dependable – Government White Paper, December 1997. “If the right to health is considered as a fundamental human right, significant differences in access to health care and the health status of individuals must be seen as violations of the principle of equality” – Implications of a Right to Health – Virginia A. Leary, 1993.
It is important to distinguish the difference between “civil rights” and “civil liberties.” The legal area known as “civil rights” has traditionally revolved around a basic right to be free from unequal treatment based upon certain proscribed protected characteristics such as race, gender, disability, etc, in environments such as employment and housing. “Civil liberties” are different because they protect basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed. These are explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights (in Britain, originally 1689) and the Bill of Rights (of America), and Civil Liberties and Justice and Convention of Human Rights (of the European Union) or interpreted through the years by courts and lawmakers. Civil liberties more or less revolve around:
- Freedom of speech
- The right to privacy
- The right to be free from unreasonable searches of your home
- The right to a fair court trial
- The right to marry
- The right to vote
With Brexit the corporations now have the upper hand as never before and the list of rights and liberties we are rightly accustomed to are now under attack as they have been for about two decades.
The American government under Trump now have the corporations in government, turning government itself into a kind of new corporation, which is now staffed, run and managed by business executives and lobbyists. These same corporations have an eye on Britain and an eye on reducing civil rights and civil liberties to achieve their aims.
Two years ago, the UK was well known to have reached Victorian-style inequality, housing the poorest people in western Europe, a claim never strongly denied by politicians that remains unchallenged to this day.
The right to housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living.
The Homelessness Act 2002 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It amends the Housing Act 1996 and sets out the duties owed by local housing authorities to someone who is homeless or even threatened with homelessness. In 2005, the government of the day stated that “Every person has the right to a secure home; there is no place for homelessness in today’s society.”
In 2010 a change of government occurred with a typically Thatcherite ideology. Today, homelessness is now a part of every day life. It has a number of descriptions to camouflage the reality. We have statutory homelessness (quarterly gov’t statistics), hidden homelessness (unofficial estimates), squatting, sofa surfing and sleeping rough. You could include ‘temporary accommodation’ as the right to housing includes the right to a permanent place to live. Hundreds of thousands are affected.
As it turns out Homeless.Org estimates that 14 per cent of the adult population of Britain have personally experienced homelessness. The biggest reason (followed by not being wanted in the household) was that an Assured Tenancy agreement came to an end. The average age of homelessness is 35 and sleeping rough has doubled from 2010 to 2015 (last known reliable data).
Homelessness in all its forms, no matter how described, is now no longer a civil right but a civil maybe. You can either afford it or you can’t. The law no longer protects the very people it was designed to protect even though the law exists.
Thatcher and Reagan successfully colluded to deregulate the financial services industry, this is why property has been fully ‘financialised’ by the banks and we have a housing crisis in the first place.
Prior to 1984, a person could not be held by police for longer than 24 hours without a criminal charge being made against them. Successive government’s have eroded this civil right. Since then we have managed to allow indefinite detention of non British citizens ‘suspected’ of committing terrorist acts, where there was not enough evidence to proceed to a court of law. This civil right is no longer a right – indeed it is barely a maybe.
In September 2015 David Cameron said “Magna Carta is something every person in Britain should be proud of, its remaining copies may be faded, but its principles shine as brightly as ever, in every courtroom and every classroom, from palace to parliament to parish church. Liberty, justice, democracy, the rule of law – we hold these things dear, and we should hold them even dearer for the fact that they took shape right here, on the banks of the Thames.”
Hear, Hear you say. With some irony just one week later David Cameron authorised and then announced the execution without trial of two British citizens. Irrespective of your views about Briton’s heading off to Syria or wherever and fighting as Jihadists or whatever, it was never David Cameron’s legal right to assassinate anyone, let alone British citizens without trial. Cameron even achieved this without permission in another sovereign state. This act is known as ‘extra-judicial killing’ and is illegal by any definition internationally. Just because the American’s do it, doesn’t make it lawful. The right to life is now no longer a civil liberty, it is now a civil maybe.
In 2013 the Coalition government and parliament approved legislation to apply Secret Courts in civil cases. What this meant was that if a citizen takes the British government or its officials to court in cases such as; torture, rendition, or a whole host of other reasons, the government is able to present evidence to the judge which the claimant, defendant, media and public will never be privy to. These secret courts allows government to resist scrutiny in such cases.
The British Army’s most senior lawyer said “The justice and security bill has one principal aim and that is to cover up UK complicity in rendition and torture. The bill is an affront to the open justice on which this country rightly prides itself and, above all, it is an affront to human dignity.”
The right to a fair trial is no longer a civil right but a civil maybe. In this case, so is torture and kidnapping by the state, as the state has deemed it necessary to protect its actions against laws that have protected its citizens for centuries. The American administration finds kidnap, rendering and torture to their liking – it still doesn’t make it right or lawful no matter how you argue otherwise. One should not forget that GCHQ were caught spying on client/legal privilege in these very same cases – also illegal and a clear breach of civil liberty.
George Monbiot recently wrote – “Trump’s extraordinary plan to cut federal spending by $10.5tn was drafted by the Heritage Foundation (a corporate ThinkTank), which called it a “blueprint for a new administration”. Vought and Gray, who moved on to Trump’s team from Heritage, are now turning this blueprint into his first budget. This will, if passed, inflict devastating cuts on healthcare, social security, legal aid, financial regulation and environmental protections; eliminate programmes to prevent violence against women, defend civil rights and fund the arts; and will privatise the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Trump, as you follow this story, begins to look less like a president and more like an intermediary, implementing an agenda that has been handed down to him.”
The Snoopers Charter, The Trade Union Bill, The Heath & Social Care Act and many more pieces of legislation implemented in a drip, drip fashion is simply the growing attack from all shades of the political sphere on established laws made for the good of the community that benefits big business.
Henry Porter, one of the organisers of the Convention on Modern Liberty, said that there was “little doubt that there is a crisis of liberty in Britain”.
Shami Chakrabarti, former head of Liberty once said in 2009 “This attack on our freedoms under this government threatens us all.” She is now in the House of Lords and “sold out” on our civil liberties after it emerged that Labour would abstain on a key vote on the Investigatory Powers Bill that will definitely affect us all and benefit big money.
This is the road Britain is heading down because government officials lost control to their corporate paymasters a few years back just as they did four decades ago in America. The difference was that Britain had some sort of shield provided in large part by the EU. Corporations see Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and Human Rights as an obstruction, hence Theresa May’s confirmation that Human Right’s Laws will be replaced.
The Americanisation of Britain is now in its final stage. Individualism is to reign. Social democracy is coming to an end – the rule of law to be determined by corporations. Far from ‘taking back our country’, we are now going to hand it on a platter to the corporations.