Threatening The Unthinkable On Our Rights

23rd June 2022 / United Kingdom
Boris Johnson Achieved What He Wanted

By Martha Spurrier: What do you do if you keep getting caught offside? Time your runs better? Find a smarter way to build up play and break the lines? Well, if you’re Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, you do things a little differently: you get rid of the linesman.

That’s the situation the UK finds itself in now. The government is threatening to remove the most fundamental protection we have against abuse of power – the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – so it can do as it pleases.

To do so would represent perhaps the biggest attack on human rights in this country, all to push through a racist and unethical policy that trades human rights for cash.

Since the European Court of Human Rights grounded the UK’s unjust flight to Rwanda last week – upholding rules that said refugees should not have been on the plane – we have already begun to hear from ministers about the need to get rid of ‘European judges’

The prime minister’s spokesperson has also said the government is “keeping all options on the table” when it comes to removing the UK from the ECHR.


“This is a power grab to take away our rights and remove any checks and balances on the government”


This is a power grab to take away our rights and remove any checks and balances on the government. It is not a new tactic, it’s the hallmark of Johnson’s government – from rewriting the ministerial code post-partygate to planning to scrap the Human Rights Act.

But this is a particularly dangerous escalation of the government’s agenda. Leaving the ECHR would throw away the hard-earned fundamental rights of countless people, and be a blow to the UK’s international role, standing and reputation. It cannot be allowed to happen.

The emergency measures that facilitated the ECHR’s 11th-hour intervention are available only when someone faces a real risk of serious and irreversible harm. Preventing irreparable harm should not be controversial: we all have the right to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. Our human rights are designed to protect us from situations which put us at risk of serious harm.

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Faced with opposition, the government is trying to change the rules so it can be the only winner. We see this in its plans to introduce a watered-down ‘Bill of Rights’, its assault on Judicial Review, its introduction of voter ID laws, its crackdown on the right to protest, and its threats to withdraw from the Refugee Convention.

This agenda will make it even harder for all of us – but especially those from marginalised communities, including refugees and migrants – to defend our basic rights. The government continues to propose unworkable, unjust solutions, which will cause untold damage, to a problem of its own making – the lack of safe routes for refugees to this country.

We’re relieved that the flight to Rwanda was cancelled, thanks to the tireless and inspirational work of those advocating for the refugees on the plane and organising resistance to the hostile environment in our communities.

But despite the win – and with it the clear indication from judges here and in Europe that this policy may be unlawful and unsafe – the government has vowed to push on with the deportations. We must not give up.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a broad coalition of voices calling out this inhuman plan, from church leaders to royals to protesters and parliamentarians. Faced with a renewed threat to our rights, it is vital that we continue to unite to resist the government, and do everything in our power to protect those put at risk by its dangerous plans.


Martha Spurrier is the Director of Liberty, a Visiting Professor of Law at Goldsmiths University and a trustee of the Museum of Homelessness. She previously worked as a human rights barrister specialising in bringing cases against the state, and in 2015 she co-founded the ‘Act for the Act’ campaign.




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