Nigel Farage’s call to scrap the Human Rights Act is unpatriotic

We should be proud of our country for using the lessons of a dark and fascist past to create a durable liberal future

Alistair Carmichael
Wednesday 17 February 2021 16:31 GMT
Nigel Farage has taken to Twitter to call for the UK to scrap the non-existent ‘EU Human Rights Act’
Nigel Farage has taken to Twitter to call for the UK to scrap the non-existent ‘EU Human Rights Act’ (Nigel Farage/Twitter)

Britain’s greatest living grifter, Nigel Farage, is at it again. “Scrap the EU Human Rights Act” is his latest call to action. The fact that there is no such thing as the “EU Human Rights Act” is of course of no consequence to a man whose grasp of detail is paralleled only by his political twin, the prime minister.

What he means is our Human Rights Act, passed in 1998 by our Parliament, which codified our decades-long membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. When Mr Farage undermines our country’s hard-earned human rights he is not just being mean-spirited or reactionary. He is being downright unpatriotic.

Some time ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Nuremberg War Trials. It tells the story of British and American leaders who were determined that those responsible for the horrors of Nazism should be held accountable according to the rule of law. It was impossible to leave without feeling some pride in being British. Not because we had won the war – but because we knew why we were fighting.

It was British lawyers who then led the way in writing the European Convention on Human Rights. Back in the “good old days” Farage is so fond of, Britain led and others followed as we set out a legal framework for democracies across the continent. It was a fundamentally liberal defence against state oppression and overreach. The Convention balanced the rights of the individual against the power of the state in a way that is essential to modern, liberal democracy. It was designed to avoid the need for another Nuremberg trial.

Mr Farage sneers that asylum seekers in the UK dare use human rights law in their defence. It was precisely to protect the most vulnerable among us that these laws were created. If the Human Rights Act is a bulwark stopping ambitious ministers from undermining the rule of law then it is working as it should.

The human rights that Mr Farage derides are as much our birthright as anyone else’s. They protect every one of us. Just ask the families of Hillsborough victims. Ask those who suffered from shocking treatment at Stafford Hospital. Ask our soldiers who fought for the right to proper equipment. In each case, it was our Human Rights Act that allowed them justice.

The day-to-day outcomes of legal proceedings are not always popular. They can be twisted by bad-faith actors who seek short-term gain. It is for that reason that some Conservatives score cheap points attacking human rights, and that some at the top of the Labour Party are afraid to defend them, in case someone in a focus group somewhere is offended.

It is for that reason, however, that we should pay all the more tribute to those who created the basis of our human rights law, for having the vision and the foresight to see beyond short-term populism and easy answers. We should be all the more proud of our country for using the lessons of a dark and fascist past to create a durable liberal future.

And we should demand a little more patriotism from Farage and his Conservative chums. The United Kingdom, however imperfectly, once led in establishing the ideal of international human rights. Now Mr Farage and his Tory fellow travellers want our country to retreat. They want our country to be as inward-looking and as small as they are.

They are wrong. Despite our flaws (and our government), our country is still one of the leading voices for liberalism and freedom. We know that human rights do not stop at our shores just because some among us are closeminded. They do not apply to any one of us less than any other. If we undermine human rights at home, we undermine our ability to stand for them around the world.

It is our commitment to human rights that allows us to point out the illiberal actions of President Xi Jinping towards Hong Kong, and his attempted genocide of the Uyghur people. It is our defence of these principles that allows us to criticise Vladimir Putin’s repression of Alexei Navalny. It is our legacy in creating the European Convention on Human Rights that allows us to voice concern about Farage’s pal, Donald Trump, attempting to overturn an election. Our legacy on human rights informs our future.

Human rights are nothing if they are not universal. Unlike Nigel Farage, however, I am proud that our universal human rights were once guided into writing by British hands.

Alistair Carmichael is a Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland

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