Successive governments have conducted a ‘very effective spin project’ to imply human rights protection is just for terrorists and sex offenders, Director of Liberty Martha Spurrier said as she launched Brunel University London’s new human rights awareness programme.
In a video interview with Brunel Law School’s Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, published today (Wednesday 22 March), Spurrier explains that compared to the emotional attachment many Americans feel with their Constitution’s rights protection, many of us have failed to embrace and understand the Human Rights Act because of anti-HRA rhetoric from government and the media.
This year Brunel Law School and the University’s Britain in Europe think tank have introduced a new research project, Knowing our Rights, directed by Dr Giannoulopoulos.
The programme aims to educate and encourage debate among the UK public, with a focus on UK’s 16-18-year-olds, on the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, and what they mean for all of us.
Spurrier argues that by committing to repeal the Human Rights Act, the Prime Minister is intent on creating a “two-tier human rights system”, where British-born citizens are provided a better standard of protection than foreign-born citizens.
And in a speech to Brunel students and staff earlier this month the barrister, campaigner, and NGO director also emphasised that a replacement British Bill of Rights will dilute protection for everyone, stating that anyone who believes otherwise is “very, very, naïve”.
While the official Leave EU campaign had committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK as well as those of Brits in Europe, Spurrier and Brunel University London academics have expressed disappointment that May has offered no reassurance that this will happen, and Parliament has not stood up to her.
Spurrier explains that Theresa May's view is “in stark contrast” to that of her party and the view of the British public.
“It is really disappointing that Parliament has not stood up to her and made sure their rights are protected,” she said. “It’s absolutely right that there will be legal claims and that we can expect - as the uncertainty continues and people are left in this really terrible state of limbo - people who have settled here and have families here, they will look to the Human Rights Act to make sure that their family life rights are protected.”
May is against the European Convention on Human Rights overall and is the first PM to openly argue that we should leave the Convention, Spurrier explains.
“I don’t think you can really underestimate how serious that is. We have never had a Prime Minister who has criticised the Convention. We’ve had plenty of people talk about whether the Human Rights Act could be improved…
“But to go even further and say that actually we should pull out of that post World War II settlement which is the European Convention on Human Rights… that’s a very radical departure from previous policy. We don’t think that’s a departure that’s supported by the Conservative party and we think it will be incredibly controversial if it goes into the  manifesto. That’s the next big fight I think.”
It is a policy generated by May’s time as Home Secretary, explained Spurrier, where issues of immigration and deportation struggles – particularly that of radical cleric Abu Qatada – “dogged” her time in office. “She is determined to get her own back, effectively,” Spurrier added. “It really stuck in her craw… As a result she’s intent on weakening rights protections, particularly for minority groups.”
Offering her support for ‘Knowing our Rights’, she said: “Awareness-raising about human rights is essential, and [the Knowing our Rights] project is really, really important, particularly in times like these."
Find out more about the Britain in Europe think tank at Brunel University London: www.brineurope.com
Sarah Cox - Senior Media Relations Officer, Media Relations