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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has published a report by former High Court judge and QC – Sir Michael Tugendhat – entitled “Fighting for freedom? The historic and future relationship between conservatism and human rights”, concluding that Conservatives should not repeal the Human Rights Act nor withdraw from the ECHR.

This new report explores the development and importance of human rights in England. In particular, it examines the historical and philosophical relationship between conservatism and human rights. Since the current Conservative Government has committed to reviewing the United Kingdom’s human rights legal framework after Brexit, this report outlines and assesses different options for reform of human rights.

The report identifies three main options for reforming the UK’s human rights legal framework:

  1. The UK repeals the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), withdraws from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and adopts a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (BBRR)
  2. The UK repeals the HRA but does not withdraw from the ECHR, and adopts a BBRR
  3. The UK does not pursue the proposal: it does not repeal the HRA and does not withdraw from the ECHR

This report is an argument for the third option: against embarking upon any major legislative reform of the UK’s human rights framework, and against withdrawal from the ECHR.

The report shows that it was in fact a Conservative MP – Quintin Hogg MP – who first advocated in 1968 for a Bill of Rights, which would later became the Human Rights Act.

Commenting, Sir Michael Tugendhat, the author of the report said:

“The rule of law and the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 were, for the most part, recognised in English law by the fifteenth century. Recalling this in 1946, Sir Winston Churchill urged the British and American peoples to never cease to proclaim these rights as they were expressed in Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas corpus, trial by jury, the common law, and the American Declaration of Independence. The ECHR was the partial achievement of Churchill’s aim. But the common law did not guarantee these rights enough.

“From 1953, Conservative Governments incorporated the rule of law and human rights into the constitutions of British Overseas Territories, up to and including Hong Kong in 1997, and they caused the UK to ratify other human rights treaties – on refugees in 1954, against all forms of discrimination against women in 1986, and against torture in 1988. The Human Rights Act 1998 strengthened the protection of these British rights in the UK.

“Although most Conservatives opposed the HRA in 1998, it in fact represented the realisation of their earlier policies. The Conservative Party should today pursue its historic commitment to the rule of law, and maintain, or strengthen, the ECHR and the HRA.”

Commenting on the report, Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue said:

“The defence of human rights, which protect individual liberty from an overreaching state and undue power, should be a fundamental part of modern conservatism. Conservatives have a proud history of championing human rights. In fact, Conservatives in the post-war period championed and developed human rights as a defence against nationalising, socialistic Labour Governments, now a real threat again with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

“It is little known that a Conservative politician – Quintin Hogg MP – was in fact the first proponent of a Bill of Rights – which would later become the Human Rights Act. However, particularly under the leadership of Theresa May, the Conservative Party appears deeply sceptical of human rights. This is both philosophically flawed and politically unwise.

“The last General Election demonstrated Conservatives are now losing the support of younger people, who are positive about liberal Britain. A key part of liberal thinking is the belief in and defence of human rights. To better defend individual liberty and attract younger voters, the Conservative Party should now not just promise to maintain the Human Rights Act, but be the loudest champions of it.”