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British Conservatives’ Contempt for Human Rights

The UK’s Tories have been targeting the European Convention on Human Rights for more than a decade. Now, they appear closer than ever to abandoning it – a move that would betray Britain’s human-rights record and reputation and make it an international outlier, alongside Russia and Belarus.

EDINBURGH – For centuries, Britain has prided itself on being a bastion of liberty and the rule of law. British leaders have talked in glowing terms of the “golden thread” that connects the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Bill of Rights of 1689 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950 and the Human Rights Act of 1998. Thus, the United Kingdom’s human-rights record has been central to successive governments’ efforts to exercise soft power globally.

No one has boasted more about Britain’s global leadership in human rights – and its rule-of-law credentials more broadly – than the five Conservative prime ministers who have held office since the 2016 Brexit vote. Yet, in practice, these very ministers have been systematically undermining the rule of law, and the “law and order” party is now contemplating abandoning the ECHR – a framework that British leaders, beginning with Winston Churchill, pioneered over 70 years ago and persuaded Europeans to accept.

According to The Telegraph, a newspaper close to the Conservative Party, more than one-third of the cabinet – at least eight ministers – along with other senior Tories, are pushing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to place a commitment to withdraw from the ECHR at the center of the coming election campaign. Their justification is that judges at the European Court of Human Rights are blocking the deportation of illegal migrants from the UK to Rwanda, which has agreed to accept them (for a hefty price).

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