Cameron Plans to Leave Council of Europe As Dry Run for Brexit
David Cameron’s Conservative Party has said it will make proposals to introduce laws that will deny the right of the European Court of Human Rights to rule on human rights issues in Britain.
If Britain thus withdraws from the treaty setting up the European Court of European Right it will mean withdrawal from the Council of Europe – the first stage in a full-scale Brexit – Britain exiting European institutions to set out on new destiny decoupled from Europe.
All EU member states are simultaneously members of the Council of Europe but the latter’s membership of 47 nation states extends to Switzerland, Russian, Armenia, Georgia and Iceland.
The Council of Europe was created after World War 2 on the initiative of Winston Churchill. British lawyers drew up the European Convention on Human Rights protecting democracy, rule of law, religious faith, media freedom all seen as desirable goods in the anti-totalitarian politics of themed 20th century.
The Convention was given teeth in the form of a European Court of Human Rights whose rulings have to be accepted by all 47 signatories.
Belarus is the one European national suspended from membership over its flagrant authoritanism. The Council of Europe’s lively assembly of parliamentarians from 47 member states is also the scene of ding-dong battles over human rights abuses in Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The Council of Europe and the ECHR now seeks to uphold modern human rights to defend women, gays, ethnic minorities and is a lifeline for groups and individuals in countries where rule of law and constitutional democracy are novel concepts.
The proximate cause of British conservative anger is a small number of rulings about the treatment of alleged Islamist terrorists. It is a variation of the Guantanamo Bay dilemma. The men are propagandists and organizers of evil. But often there is not a provable court case based on testable evidence against them.
In addition, they have may married while in Britain and have British wives or children so have some connection to the country.
Finally, most of the countries where they came from are high on the list of secret police states where torture and disappearances are preferred tools of national security.
British judges have to pay attention to the European Convention of Human Rights which insists on open trials based on evidence, insists on the right to family life, and expressly forbids sending anyone to be tortured by modern-day Gestapos. And in some cases where detained alleged terrorists have appealed to the ECHR in Strasbourg the European Court has stopped deportations.
This has angered both British judges and lawmakers. They like the idea of the ECHR telling the Russians or Turks what to do but consider British justice and executive decisions so perfect they should not be limited by foreign judges sitting in faraway Strasbourg.
In essence the row is a variation of the now intense debate in Britain on whether British democracy and the right of British politicians to make law and British judges to uphold it is compatible with European treaties and inter-government bodies like the EU and ECHR which, can indeed, overrule national wishes.
Egged on by the off-shore owned press headed by Rupert Murdoch media empire a campaign has been running for some years against the ECHR. Now a group of Conservative Party lawyers had drawn up a plan to legislate the complete supremacy of British courts and judges which is incompatible with being a Treaty member of the ECHR and the Council of Europe.
The details will be unveiled at the Conservative Party congress in September and will then be in the party manifesto as David Cameron bids to win a second term next May.
If Cameron wins on that election promise then it is hard to see Britain staying as a Council of Europe member.
It will be the first Brexit move – Britain exiting the ECHR – ahead of the bigger one that is likely to happen in an EU membership referendum in 2017 which Cameron has also promised will be the lead item in his party’s manifesto.
Labour MPs have also got angry with the ECHR and voted with Conservatives to condemn and reject ECHR proposals on the idea that prisoners should have civic rights.
David Cameron has just ejected from his cabinet two senior Conservative lawyer ministers, a veteran pro-European, Ken Clarke, and a determined and principled Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who both threatened to resign if the Euroskeptic clamour for quitting the ECHR was turned into government policy.
Their ouster means that Mr Cameron has now given way to the anti-Europeans in his party who hate the obligation to accept the ruling of a European institution based on a treaty obligation Britain has signed up to.
If Britain does quit the ECHR as Brexit No 1, then Brexit No 2 – quitting the EU will follow shortly after.