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Britain Is Turning Its Back on International Law

As the Conservative government's Rwanda bill enters the crucial committee stage, the United Kingdom is about to cross the Rubicon. The proposed legislation would prevent key sections of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act from being applied in Britain, and threatens to erode the rule of law globally.

EDINBURGH – Last month, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made an astonishing admission: the United Kingdom would have all but abandoned the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were it not for the intervention of the Rwandan government. I cannot imagine any previous Conservative leader – from Winston Churchill, an early advocate of the ECHR, to John Major – ever suggesting that Rwanda, a country with one of the world’s worst human-rights records, should serve as Britain’s moral compass.

Most UK media coverage has focused on far-right politicians’ claims that the legislation to send illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda does not go far enough. But the bigger danger, which few Conservatives have acknowledged, is that it would seriously undermine Britain’s long-term commitment to the rule of law.

It is no exaggeration to say that, as the Rwanda bill enters the crucial committee stage in the House of Commons this week, the United Kingdom, long viewed as the home of liberty and famed for exporting these values to the rest of the world, is about to cross the Rubicon. As the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law explains in a recent report, “the central purpose of the Bill, to conclusively deem Rwanda to be a safe country in light of the recently concluded Rwanda Treaty, is contrary to the Rule of Law.” By banning the courts from considering that question in the future, its adoption “would amount to a legislative usurpation of the judicial function.”