Putin will exploit Sunak’s threat to leave ECHR over Rwanda plan, warns Gordon Brown

Leaving the ECHR would see Britain’s voice in the world go ‘increasingly unheard’, says former PM

Andy Gregory
Monday 08 April 2024 10:23 BST
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Vladimir Putin will seek to exploit Rishi Sunak’s retreat from the European Convention on Human Rights, Gordon Brown has said in a stark warning to the prime minister.

The former Labour PM accused Mr Sunak’s government of “systematically undermining” international law, warning that the Russian president – who is subject to an international arrest warrant over war crime allegations – would capitalise on any steps to “ridicule the legitimacy” of human rights law.

Mr Sunak has threatened to pull the UK out of the convention if it stymies his flagship policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. His looming new legislation will disapply sections of both the ECHR and the Human Rights Act – after British judges ruled the East African country was not safe for refugees.

The UK has previously urged Russia to abide by a European court order relating to Moscow’s jailing of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny (Getty)

Warning that ministers have already taken the power to ignore interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Brown cautioned that the new “notwithstanding clauses” in the government’s new bill “are of a completely different order of magnitude”.

These clauses assert that the provisions of the bill override “any interpretation of international law” as well as of domestic law by a court or tribunal, giving the home secretary the power to decide whether to abide by any interim European injunction, such as temporarily halting flights to Rwanda, the former PM noted.

Writing for The Times, Mr Brown said: “When Sunak arrived in No 10, he had an opportunity to reaffirm core British values after the years of Johnson and Truss playing fast and loose with them. Yet, while stopping short of formally leaving the ECHR – the issue he has with the ultra-right of the party – he appears to have renounced its core elements.

“Under this Conservative administration, the whole system of international law – not just the ECHR, but also the Refugee Convention and general human rights and humanitarian law – is being systemically undermined.

“The result? Russia will exploit the British retreat to ridicule the legitimacy of international human rights law and our voice in the world will increasingly go unheard.”

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has previously warned of the dangers of undermining international human rights law (Lucy North/PA)

It is not the first time Mr Brown has issued such a warning, having written in January that “countries like Hungary and Turkey will inevitably cite the UK’s actions when they refuse to comply with the ECHR and similar instruments”.

“The South African government recently proposed that it will choose which Refugee Convention obligations it should comply with. It will not be the last,” Mr Brown said.

In keeping with growing clamour from the right of the Tory party, Mr Sunak has hardened his rhetoric and stance towards the ECHR in recent months, declaring last week that controlling immigration is more important than “membership of a foreign court” – which Britain helped to establish 70 years ago.

Moderate One Nation Tory MPs have warned against leaving the convention, however, while others have cautioned that such a move would breach the Good Friday Agreement, which includes a requirement to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Irish law.

And Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta warned the government in December of the need for the legislation to comply with “the highest standards of international law” – cautioning that Kigali would not be able to continue in the asylum deal “without lawful behaviour by the UK”.

The following month, Mr Sunak was told by the president of the European court, Siofra O’Leary, that he would be breaking human rights law if his government ignored orders intended to stop asylum seekers being sent to Rwanda, dubbed “rule 39” measures.

The UK previously urged Mr Putin to abide by a rule 39 measure in 2021 relating the release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic penal colony in February.

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