Controversial plans to withdraw the UK from European human rights rules were rejected by the Scottish Parliament last night amid claims that such a move would be a “fundamental violation” of civil liberties.
Scottish Government equalities minister Angela Constance insisted that the plan to instead introduce a British Bill of Rights risked “ripping up” a shared notion of Britishness.
The Holyrood vote last night has no binding impact on the UK government with the decision to be taken at Westminster, but shows the extent of anger among political leaders north of the Border.
Theresa May is to put replacement of the Human Rights’ Act and withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) at the heart of the Conservatives’ 2020 election drive, it emerged recently. Withdrawal from the Convention had been at a flagship proposal of the Tories’ campaign during the Brexit campaign amid public anger over its use to ensure prisoner get the vote.
Ms Constance told MSPs: “We should be in no doubt in this chamber, in this parliament and across Scotland as a whole that dragging Scotland out of the EU and attempts to undermine fundamental human rights safeguards will indeed have profound implications for our country.
“It would seem to me that the UK government in its endeavours to repeal the Human Rights Act and, reprehensibly, to even talk, to moot the suggestion, of withdrawing from the European Convention, it appears to me it is tearing up any notion, any shared heritage we have as political nations and, indeed, is ripping up any shared notion that we have of what being British actually means.”
She said the Scottish Government’s paper setting out its plan for Scotland’s place in Europe stresses there can be “no regression” in the freedoms secured by EU law.
Mrs May, who served as home secretary from 2010 to 2016, spoke in the past of her desire to quit the ECHR, which for a time frustrated her plans to extradite the hate preacher Abu Qatada.
Mrs May said: “The ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals, and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.”
MSPs last night voted 93-30 in favour of a Scottish Government motion calling on the UK government not to withdraw from “international human rights mechanisms” such as ECHR.
It also set out MSPs “opposition to any loss in Scotland of the human rights, equality, social protection and other safeguards and standards enshrined in EU law and set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.”
The vote has no binding effect on UK ministers.
Conservative MSP Douglas Ross said accused the SNP of being “alarmist”.
Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said: “Labour is committed to standing up for people’s rights.
The current UK Human Rights Act, which incorporates ECHR into British law, has protected victims of domestic violence and has allowed victims of rape to ensure that the police properly investigate those offences.
It has been used also by disabled people who have been affected by welfare reform, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have used it to overcome discrimination.
Families of military personnel who have been killed on active service have also used the legislation because the Ministry of Defence supplied them with outdated equipment.