Audio on Single Market and Migration

Here is a short audio, recorded for Ben Chambers’ 1st June session of “Sixteen Million Rising“.

You can find it at 2 hours, 23 minutes on

We propose that, if the UK is committed to curbing  EU migration, it should shift its focus away from tightening borders towards making it more attractive for would-be migrants to stay at home, through EU pressures towards higher minimum wages, better welfare and more open job markets in the main source countries.

Here is the text:

Mrs May has taken it upon herself to take us out of the Single Market before she even starts to negotiate her super-hard Brexit. She claims she offers strong and stable rule, but has become a U-turn expert. She clearly suffers from bees in her bonnet and bats in her belfry.

Her bees are all for free trade. But her bats tell her to resign from the world’s best free trade deal – right on our doorstep.

She says that she is listening to “the will of the people”! Perhaps we are all deaf, but have you heard millions complaining about the Single Market? Why should they, because it is good for British trade, good for British investment and good for British employment?

To first negotiate to leave the Single Market (because you cannot just walk out of it!) and then immediately say you wish to negotiate an equally good deal – with the same people round the same table – is nothing but a ludicrous pre-planned U-turn. Her foolishness will expose our country, our lives, our jobs, our children, our grandchildren to huge risks. It will waste lots of time and prolong the uncertainties that have already cost trillions through the fall in sterling, and have left so many of us in limbo.

It is bit like a man who sues his wife for divorce but tells her that he still intends to go to bed with her when it suits him.

The main reason May wants out of the single market seems to be her buzzing bonnet bee about the European Court of Justice. And then, of course, she wants people to think that she’s acting strong on curbing European migrant inflows.

As long as Britain has a strong economy, a good welfare system, low unemployment and an open job market, it will be a magnet for migrants.

Knowing that slamming the door on migrants won’t work, because they will come in through the back door, May hasn’t set a date for reaching her “tens of thousands” goal! To attain it, she is happy to crash us out of the EU and ruin the UK economy so that no-one will ever want to come and work here.

Future of our Children proposes that, before starting formal Brexit negotiations, the British government should call for an informal consultation with the EU on its Single Market and freedom of movement strategies. Britain could invite the Commission to examine measures to make the Single Market playing field more level. This would imply showing willingness to lean on the main migrant source countries (Poland, Ireland, Portugal, Romania and Italy) to address the “push” factors that drive people to migrate. These countries would have to sign up to higher minimum wages, unemployment benefits for all working age citizens, and freeing up their labour markets.

This offers the surest way to curb EU immigration to Britain in the medium term, if this is what we want. But it won’ be possible unless we stay in the Single Market and, dare we say it, drop Brexit.

Mrs May hasn’t a clue,  She’s great at turning U,  She thinks of ME, not YOU,   So, please don’t vote blue

Categorised as General

Four EU Successes: 4. The Single Market. May wants to sacrifice future British prosperity for a vague commitment to slash EU immigrant numbers

The Single Market. May wants to sacrifice future British prosperity for a vague commitment to slash EU immigrant numbers

I was tempted to say that Theresa May has got her knickers in a twist, but that is not very polite when talking of a Prime Minister. A more acceptable expression – and perhaps a more accurate one – would be to say that she has tied herself in knots over Britain’s membership of the EU single market and the issue of freedom of movement within Europe.

Her troubles began when, in her ambition to be Prime Minister, she dropped her “remain” credentials and started to chant her mantra of “Brexit means Brexit”. Then they got worse when, much to most people’s surprise, she translated this into a vision of a super-hard Brexit, announcing her decision to withdraw Britain unilaterally from the EU single market, before even entering into negotiations. Although she and others claimed that this responds to the “will of the people”, it is far from clear that most of those who voted “leave” in last year’s EU referendum knew that this would mean getting out of the single market, given that several campaign leaders said that it wouldn’t.

The creation and steady improvement of the single market is the EU’s greatest achievement. It has been one of the main drivers of economic growth in the region. It has been good for Britain.  It remains the best possible free trade deal that Britain can hope for. To leave the single market would almost certainly mean eventually engaging with the 27 EU remaining members in a less attractive trade regime that could make a big dent in UK trade with Europe and damage the British economy. It would also exclude Britain from having a voice in defining the future shape of the single market in an increasingly digital environment from which the UK is well positioned to benefit. Moreover, we must not forget in our inward-looking selfishness that May’s decision to leave the single market and then to try to create analogous trading conditions under a different name is not only risky but will involve a long-drawn-out process that itself will cause large-scale collateral damage not just to Britain but to all EU countries by prolonging uncertainties and amplifying tensions.

Those that advocate that Britain should opt out of the single market, which accounts for well over 40% of its exports, claim that this will give us the freedom to open new trade deals with other countries. May’s own visits to Turkey, the Middle East and India, however, must have taught her how illusory these markets will be, confirming her own stated position before the referendum that “If we do leave the EU, we risk going backwards when it comes to trade.” She has presumably also learnt that even free trade deals with other countries seem bound to be tied to immigration privileges and to the creation of arbitration bodies.

May’s main motive for getting out of the single market seemed to be that it would enable her to claim that this would allow her to restrict the freedom of movement of European citizens and thereby stem the flow of EU migrants into Britain. She also saw it as a means of enabling Britain to withdraw from the European Court of Justice whose authority she resents (just as she resents the sovereignty of the British parliament) but which assures fair play amongst the single market’s members.

In her election manifesto, May has re-iterated her goal to bring total annual immigration from all sources down to the “tens of thousands”, but she has neither set a date for achieving this nor explained how she will do it. Hence her goal is merely an electoral aspiration, on which, through her own years as Home Secretary, she knows full-well she cannot deliver –  a “pie in the sky” sop to Tory right wing and UKIP voters who want to stop immigration! She has also turned down her colleagues’ advice to exclude foreign students from the immigrant count, although they represent a valuable home-based “export”, contributing to the British economy through tuition fees and meeting their living costs.

This means that we have now arrived at an absurd situation in which May, though claiming to be a champion of free trade, has committed our country to opt out of the best free trade deal in the world so as to allow her to make a notional election pledge to drastically cut immigration, knowing that she cannot be held accountable for the results. And, if she should actually succeed in quickly bringing immigration numbers down by about two thirds in just a few years, this would imply a double blow to the economy and to British living standards. Not only would our trade have shrunk but there would also be critical labour shortages, now filled by immigrants, in key sectors including the NHS, care for the elderly, farming and food, and the universities. If you add to this the implied need for a managed border in Ireland and the risk of Scotland exiting from the UK, the wisdom of leaving the single market in the hope of cutting net EU immigration must be seriously questioned.

This is not to say that Britain does not need new and non-ambiguous migration management policies. These can exploit the room that exists for creating strategies for reducing immigration from Europe and elsewhere – if this is the “will of the people” – while still remaining within the single market. This means exploring options not only for reducing the attractiveness of Britain as a destination for European migrants but also, most importantly, working with EU institutions to trim the “push” factors that drive migration.

One approach to cutting immigration is for Britain to massively upgrade its educational system so as to generate the skills and aptitudes required to fill jobs that are increasingly taken up by migrants. This need has been addressed, but in a very cursory way, in the Conservative manifesto. Much more must be done on this front.

EU’s freedom of movement legislation aims to ensure equitable treatment of EU immigrants and nationals in destination countries. There is, however, still room for adjusting the pace at which citizens of other EU countries secure access to the full range of welfare benefits, especially for unemployed migrants, and acquire residence rights. Right now, however, any tightening up of migration management is virtually impossible because of the UK’s failure in 2011 to introduce identification cards. The country has no systematic means of even knowing how many immigrants there are or whether they qualify for residence. The creation of some form of obligatory registration system for all people living in the UK, perhaps based on an expansion of the national insurance system, would be an essential first step towards the orderly management of migrants’ access to benefits and services.

Recent events, however, have shown that rates of migration may be more strongly affected by factors other than work opportunities and access to benefits. Shamefully, the rise in hate crimes and other signals of xenophobia related to the EU referendum process, seems to have become a deterrent to immigration. The prolonged uncertainties surrounding the residence rights of EU citizens in UK also appear to be inducing families to return home.  In addition, it looks as though the devaluation of the pound deters inward migration because of the substantial reduction in the value of remittances when converted into local currencies. As new figures emerge, it seems certain that they will show the Brexit process itself has induced a big drop in net EU immigration over the past year.

However, if Britain continues to maintain a strong economy and low rates of unemployment, it will remain a magnet for migrants from around the world. Experience suggests that stopping free movement by closing borders will simply increase the numbers of illegal immigrants. Instead, a much more effective way of slowing immigration would be to reduce the pressures to migrate by improving livelihood opportunities in the main source countries (Poland, Ireland, Portugal, Romania and Italy). Britain, if it was to remain in the single market, could make a strong case for the EU to insist that all major migrant source countries introduce adequate minimum wages, move towards greater parity in welfare programmes including unemployment allowances and other forms of social protection, expand free access to education and health services, and free up their labour markets.

It would be nice to think that Theresa May would have done a cost-benefit assessment of different options for Britain’s future relations with Europe before she embarks – if she remains Prime Minister – on Brexit negotiations. Even without such an analysis, it seems obvious that by far the most advantageous Brexit for Britain would be no Brexit. It is downright crazy for any British government to sacrifice Britain’s membership of the single market and face massive EU exit fees, simply to justify its Prime Minister’s whimsical target for reducing EU immigration and to allow her to claim that she is reflecting the “will of the people”.

If May has any guts, she would now act on her own convictions that she stated a year or so ago. “Fundamentally”, she said “this is about our future and it is about our future prosperity as a country and, as I have made very clear, it’s absolutely in our interest, it’s absolutely in the interest of our country that we remain in the European Union.”

This would imply that she should immediately request Mr. Barnier for an informal discussion – ahead of the start of formal negotiations – on the options for Britain to receive the Commission’s support for measures aimed at reducing migration “push” factors in the main migrant source countries. If the Commission accepts the need to foster a more level playing field on migration, this would set the scene for reducing net immigration without Britain having to leave the single market or the EU.

Categorised as General

Four EU Successes: 3. How EU agencies affect our lives – for the better!


How EU agencies affect our lives – for the better!

The EU referendum “leave” campaign spread the idea that our lives were increasingly falling under the dark influence of unaccountable and overpaid “bureaucrats in Brussels”. This conjured up a picture of hordes of faceless, most likely foreign, people in cavernous offices, beavering away to generate more and more ridiculous regulations through which to control the way we live. We were urged to “take back control”.

My first reaction was to ask myself whether my own life had been negatively affected by any EU laws or regulations, and I still cannot point to any instance. I suspect most readers, except perhaps some farmers and certainly a lot of fishermen, will come to the same conclusion.

It also struck me that it comes naturally to many people who value their independence to complain about rules and regulations and to blame the people who impose them. But think what would happen to international football if each country was to play by its own rules and to drop umpires from matches. Consensually agreed standards and rules are vital to assure fair play between countries, and they lead to fewer disputes and, in most cases, huge efficiency benefits; they also tend to protect the weak from exploitation. Excessive regulation, however, can fuel resistance and create bureaucratic hurdles.

So rather than instinctively scoff at the work of “Brussels bureaucrats”, we must also look at the other side of the coin, exploring what benefits we gain from the work of the European Commission and a selection of its over 40 specialised agencies.

Although the EU runs programmes that touch almost every important aspect of our lives in generally positive ways, the level of public awareness about them us extremely low. In spite of the focus of British political attention on the EU over the past year, I suspect that few UK voters could even name more than one or two of the Union’s agencies, still less be aware of how their work impacts on us.

Two EU agencies, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) are located in London.

Most of the specialised EU agencies, including the EMA (created in 1995), serve as hubs which promote collaboration between national institutions which work in similar fields at country level. Often joint work starts with sharing of information and identifying best practises, but it may lead to setting common standards and to adopting shared initiatives on priority and emerging themes. The EMA, for example, beyond approval of medicines for human and animal use throughout Europe, is leading the development of new strategies to minimize the rising threat of resistance to antibiotics, including through excessive use of antimicrobials in livestock farming and in pets. Work such as this, conducted with the full engagement of national specialists from the EU’s 28 countries, can do much to improve our health and life expectancy prospects.

The main goal of many EU agencies is to harmonize standards applying to their respective sectors across the EU. This can bring big efficiency gains and cost savings, and, in some fields, protect consumers from damage caused by poor practices. The EBA falls within this category. It was founded at the height of the banking crisis in 2011 with the main goal of harmonizing rules on risk exposure of financial institutions operating in the EU, setting “Binding Technical Standards” for accounting, reporting and supervision procedures. The aim is to arrive at a “Single Rulebook” for the financial sector. Once in place, this should not only reduce fraud and malpractice but also lead to increased protection of our savings. Had it existed 10 years ago, perhaps the UK government would not have had to fork out £37 billion of taxpayer money on 13th October 2008 to rescue RBS, HBOS and Lloyds/TSB from failure!

Many of the agencies address issues that, by their nature, transcend national boundaries and can be most effectively tackled by coordinated action between countries This, of course, applies to many environmental problems and led to the foundation in 1993 of the European Environment Agency (EEA), located in Denmark. The EEA’s role is to generate sound, independent information on the changing state of the environment, including air pollution, climate change, nature (water, soils etc.) and sustainability. Sectoral focus areas include agriculture, energy, industry and transport. Its work has informed European environmental policy-making, leading to the region now having some of the most advanced environmental management programmes in the world. There are worrying signs that, if Britain withdraws from the EU, it might, under private sector pressure, become prone to compromising on environmental policies to gain commercial advantages.

The safe and efficient movement of people also transcends borders – for instance through setting high standards for the safety of air travel in Europe (European Air Safety Agency – EASA), the use of mobile phones when you move between countries (Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications – BEREC), or tracking criminals and sharing information on organized crime throughout Europe (EUROPOL).

Other agencies manage projects, such as in space exploration (European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency – GSA), that are too big or too complex to be handled by single nations working alone or by the private sector.

Some agencies add efficiency and scale to ongoing national efforts by funding inter-country collaboration on common priority themes and reducing duplication. By far the largest example of this is the Horizon 2020 programme that supports scientific research and innovation, funded to the tune of £63 billion over 7 years by the European Research Council and managed by its Research Executive Agency (REA). The UK has been the biggest recipient so far of research and innovation grants under Horizon 2020, with annual inflows of over £1 billion per year.


Our overall message is that Britain is not only an important contributor to the work of these agencies but that each of us benefits – often without knowing it – from their activities. The agencies do not substitute for the important work undertaken by national institutions but reinforce this especially by harmonizing processes, cutting duplication, sharing information and promoting collaboration. The agencies’ programmes are shaped not by faceless bureaucrats but through deep consultation with all interested parties before submitting for approval of the European parliament.

It is also evident that many of the agencies are well placed to respond to emerging issues that can have deep impacts on the lives of all people living in the European Union – whether the spread of new human or livestock diseases, the threats posed by climate change or means of reducing the risks of terrorist attacks.

They also allow European countries to speak with one voice – and therefore carry more weight – in global consultations and policy making.

Voters need to be aware that, if Britain withdraws from the EU, it risks losing its membership of all of these agencies –  not only diminishing its influence on their programmes and policies but also weakening their effectiveness by opting out of their programmes.

Categorised as General

Towards the End of May at the Beginning of June

Towards the End of May at the Beginning of June


Now that the local elections are over and party manifestos will start to come out, the focus shifts to shaping the 8th June election outcome. It is not a normal election, but a referendum on Theresa May and her determination to pursue a super-hard Brexit.


May is asking us for a blank cheque for her to negotiate for Britain to leave the European Union at any cost. She seems obsessed by the idea of pursuing a super-hard Brexit so that she can continue to crow that “Brexit means Brexit”, regardless of the damage that her brand will inflict on our economy, our livelihoods and our international standing. She is asking us to give her a licence for drive recklessly at top speed up a dead-end road.


The conclusion of this election will shape Britain’s future, not for 5 years but for generations to come.


The progressive opposition parties can only defeat May and her the Conservative party if they make this their sole objective and work together to achieve it. It is worth it, because if each party goes it alone, this will simply strengthen May’s hand and weaken each of the opposition parties still further. The tactical voting arrangements already under consideration, while a step in the right direction, will not oust the incumbent government.


This conclusion has been amply confirmed by the results of the local elections. The message is that business as usual is a non-starter, a recipe for the eclipse of any meaningful opposition.


It means a pre-election agreement to create a coalition government committed, in very simple terms, to a fairer and more prosperous Britain and to a positive rather than confrontational future relationship with Europe whether from within or outside the EU.


In practical terms, it means quickly creating a Progressive Parties Pact to fight the election and to promoting local Pacts in each constituency. It requires that each party’s candidates contest the election but without wasting their energies in fighting against each: 7 to 10 days ahead of the election date, a single PPP candidate would be identified locally (either by consensus or by drawing lots) to challenge the Conservatives in each constituency, and the others would withdraw.


Successful candidates would give priority to representing their constituents’ expressed priorities, once in the House of Commons, including those on future relations with Europe, regardless of their party. A consensual view on the full range of government priorities would emerge within six months of the government’s election – a reasonable time-frame after a snap election decision by the incumbent majority.


While a PPP management team would have to be put in place with the full backing of all concerned party leaders for the election period, more permanent governance arrangements for the Pact would be put in place only after the election. In the event of victory, these would include a process for selecting a future Prime Minister.


There is already much common ground between the Progressive Parties on domestic economic, social and environmental policies, with a strong emphasis on fairness. There is also a consensus on the need to reassert Parliament’s oversight of the executive branch of government. There is a wish to recreate an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect that has been a hall-mark of British values. There is a need to assure young people that their aspirations are given due weight in key decisions on Britain’s future. And it is vital that the devolved governments also have their proper say in determining what is best for them.


On Europe, it should be possible to arrive at a consensus vote-winning platform along the following lines:

  • Confirm to EU that Article 50 invocation still stands but call for a pre-negotiation dialogue on options for addressing key issues of special concern for Britain (see below):
  • Immediate unilateral recognition of EU residents’ rights in UK;
  • Immediate request to EU countries to recognise rights of UK citizens in Europe;
  • Immediate agreement to welcome qualified overseas students in British schools and universities, outside of any possible future constraints on immigration;
  • Commitment, prior to moving into detailed Brexit negotiations under Article 50, to explore with EU the options for UK remaining in the Single Market while taking measures to trim EU immigration when this over-stresses absorption capacities, and addressing other British expectations emerging from the election process.


The main focus of the short campaign should not be on policies (except on where there is already a clear inter-party consensus) but on discrediting the personal capacity of May and leading right-wing Tories (and their UKIP allies) to lead the country safely forward.


May is highly vulnerable because she has nothing to show for her ten months in office. All the evidence demonstrates that, though portrayed incessantly as “strong and stable” by her PR team, she is, in reality, a “weak and fickle” opportunist with authoritarian tendencies, driven by personal ambition and obsessions rather than any principles.


Theresa May is a weak Prime Minister:


A strong PM would have tried to pull the country together after the divisive referendum vote, adopting a moderate stand rather than aiding and abetting the extremists in her own party who are now engaging in tactical voting with UKIP, and doing nothing to counter the general hardening of attitudes towards foreigners and minorities in Britain.


A strong PM would have explored ways for UK to stay in the Single Market rather than choose to exit even before negotiations start.


A strong PM would listen to – rather than dismiss – the many groups who see themselves negatively affected by her policies:  By dismissing the concerns of the Scots, she risks breaking up our United Kingdom and she doesn’t seem to care. Her failure to listen to Irish and Northern Irish leaders over the border issue reopens prospects of violence. Her fixation over opting out of the Single Market (driven, it seems, mainly by her personal grudges against the European Court of Justice) puts thousands of jobs and businesses – as well as our overall economy and fiscal stability –  at risk. Already, major players in the financial sector are moving out of Britain, taking jobs with them.


A strong PM would be able by now to point to some positive achievements during her time in office. Instead, she has no results to show: she has spent much of her energy trying to undermine the authority of Parliament, not yet developed a feasible Brexit strategy, and done absolutely nothing to address the urgent problems facing the NHS, the education system and marginalised communities.



Mrs. May is a fickle opportunist who acts on impulse and grudges rather than conviction:


She backed “remain” in the referendum, expressing strong personal support for the Single Market, and then, as soon as the chance arose to become PM, did a complete U-turn, turning her back on the advice that she herself had given to voters: she was a traitor to her own declared beliefs and never said sorry to anyone.


She stated that she would not call a snap election, and then did a sudden U-turn also on this, after a week-end walking with her husband.


She calls for Britain to reclaim sovereignty, and then does her best to exclude Parliament – the institutional locus of British sovereignty – from playing its due constitutional role in the most important policy decision of recent years.


She exhibits autocratic tendencies, not only in this disdain for parliament, but also in relation to human rights and the rule of law. Like many insecure people in high places, she is intolerant of dissent even amongst her fellow-travellers.


Before she has even started to negotiate with the EU, she needlessly ruffled the feathers of her opposite numbers.



Beyond all of this, Mrs May must be targeted for:


Continuing to reiterate her statement that “No deal is better than a bad deal”. The united opposition should challenge this with a claim that “Remain is better than a bad deal!”.


Interpreting “the will of the people” as widespread support for a self-harming super-hard Brexit.


Failing to acknowledge that she has run around the world hunting for new trade deals and has drawn a blank, except for selling more arms to dictators.


Allowing her personal gripes to call for Britain to leave the jurisdiction of European Court of Justice and – eventually – the European Court for Human Rights, run by the Council for Europe.


Failing to do anything to temper the wave of hate crimes against foreigners and religious minorities in Britain.


Failing to confirm the rights of EU national residents in Britain ahead of negotiations on a new agreement.


Muzzling her MPs to prevent them from representing their constituents in the decision to invoke article 50.


Happy to call an election but unwilling to defend her policies in a television debate.


  • And so on……


The verdict is that Theresa May is not fit to be entrusted with setting the course of British history for coming generations.


She must, at all costs, be sent packing from Downing Street on 8th June. And the only way to be sure that this will happen is for the progressive parties to combine forces for the next 4 weeks.


By combining forces, the progressive opposition parties could put forward an outstanding group of candidates to successfully challenge May and all her friends.

Categorised as General

Four EU Successes; 2. The defense and promotion of common European values

Four EU Successes; 2. The defense and promotion of common European values

Much of the discourse around the EU over the past year or so in Britain has been about its role in managing the Single Market and about the free movement of European citizens between member countries. However, the ideas of “reclaiming sovereignty” and “taking back control” also seem to have caught the imagination of many voters when presented as slogans by the “leave” campaign leaders. Surprisingly, what they mean in practical terms seems to have been given little thought.

Indeed, since the announcement of the referendum result, the executive arm of government has actually contradicted its stated intention to genuinely reclaim sovereignty. Instead, it has tried to hijack it by doing its best to keep Parliament – the main institutional locus of British sovereignty – out of taking decisions on the most important policy issue of our lifetime. Theresa May has twice gone to UK courts to prevent Parliament from deciding on the invocation of Article 50 to signal the UK’s intent to leave the EU; she then muzzled open debate by decreeing a 3-line whip that prevented MPs from her own party from standing up for their constituents’ preferences; and now, contrary to her earlier pronouncements, she has called a “snap” general election, claiming that “divisions in Westminster” risk hampering her Brexit negotiating position.

When drawn into the issue of “taking back control” we have to understand more about the values that the EU stands for and the extent to which it has actually assumed “control” from national authorities to get them to stick. A closer look at the EU would reveal that its underlying goal is to promote peace and well-being amongst its members, by bringing them together around a set of common values that serve as the basis for a shared view of the foundations for “good governance”. Some people talk of these values as the “glue” which binds the European Union together. No country can be considered as a qualified applicant for EU membership unless it subscribes to these values and puts in place legislation and instruments to underpin them. By joining the EU in 1973,  the UK took these values on board, but now, by going for Brexit, it is implicitly seeking to unbind itself from this glue.

The central values that are defended and promoted by EU members relate to human dignity, human rights, individual freedom, democracy, equality (including gender equality) and the rule of law. The priority attached to each of these values by different members varies and may change over time to reflect local changes in the political environment. The extent to which individual citizens of EU member states subscribe to these values also differs from one nationality to another, but across the Union, younger, better educated and higher social status individuals are strongest in their support. In Britain, respondents to a 2012 survey gave highest importance to respect for human life/dignity, followed by human rights, peace, the rule of law, and democracy. Interestingly, UK respondents, asked about subsidiary values, gave very low importance to solidarity/support for others, but attached above average significance to tolerance towards others, to respect for other cultures and to greater equality.

It seems fair to claim that most of us feel quite comfortable with these values in that it comes naturally for us to adhere to them in general and to conduct our lives broadly in line with them.

Many of the values are non-enforceable in a “hard” legal sense and serve merely as points of reference for good national policy making. However, when there are signs that a country is deliberately defying any of the values, the President of the European Commission can schedule a debate on the issue and, if approval is given, set in motion a 3-stage process of assessment, issuance of a “rule of law” recommendation, and monitoring of compliance. In the event of non-compliance, the Commission may suspend a country’s voting rights.

In matters of human rights, however, there is necessarily a much stronger enforcement regime than that applying to the other values. However, contrary to an impression given by some pro-Brexit campaigners, most arbitration over human rights issues is not handled directly by the EU but by the Council of Europe which was created in 1949, with both Churchill and Bevin being amongst its “founding fathers”. It now includes 47 of continental Europe’s countries, Belarus being the only one that is not a member. Its focus is on upholding human rights (including the rights of minorities), democracy and the rule of law. Its European Court on Human Rights, rather than the Court of Justice of the European Union, serves as the main point of dispute settlement on human rights in Europe within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by the UK in 1953. Cases can be brought to the attention of the Court not only by institutions but also by individuals.

Much more recently (2009) the European Union has adopted its own Charter of Fundamental Rights which entrenches the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights into European law. It is also significant that, to be a member of the EU, a country must be a member of the Council of Europe and hence also of the European Court on Human Rights.

The referendum result sanctioned the Brexit process only as it concerns the UK’s exit from the institutions of the European Union. If this goes through, Britain will still remain committed, through its membership of the Council of Europe to upholding most European values and to respecting the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Whether the Conservative Party will return during this election campaign to pursue its intention of leaving the European Court of Human Rights, as part of its wish to “take back control” will not be clear until it publishes its manifesto.

The concern must be that if a future Conservative-led government was to remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the Court, it could open the way for a selective dilution of human rights for short-term political motives or competitive advantages. This could lead, for instance, to a down-grading of workers’ rights. When Theresa May was Home Secretary and Michael Gove was Justice Secretary, a draft Bill of Rights (to replace the 1998 Human Rights Act, through which the UK formally adopted the content of the European Convention on Human Rights) was proposed that would preserve “fundamental human rights” for British citizens, but assign fewer rights to EU nationals and still less to foreigners – a proposal that is inconsistent with the very notion of human rights…..

If these ideas were to surface again, this would this not only risk the undermining the acquired rights of people living in Britain, but it would also weaken Britain’s international credibility as a nation that has long been committed to the promotion of human rights. The UK would be joining Belarus in its self-imposed isolation.

Henry VIII’s break away from the Roman Catholic church almost 500 years ago seems to have been driven more by his failure to get the Pope to annul his first marriage than by any theological differences. It now looks as though Theresa May’s declared interest in leaving the jurisdiction of the of the ECtHR may have more to do with her having lost two high profile cases taken to the Court while she was UK Home Secretary, than to substantive concerns on her part about the nature of human rights oversight in the European region.

It would be unfortunate if the UK’s future relationship with the Council of Europe should be vulnerable  to the prejudices of a rather churlish former Home Secretary merely because she was slapped in the face a couple of times by the Court.

Categorised as General