Theresa May has no time for holiday blues with Brexit and bringing in the British Bill of Rights

Prime Minister Theresa May has only just returned from Switzerland but has little time for post-holiday blues with her busy diary planning Brexit negotiations, cuts to net immigration, and scrapping the 1998 Humans Rights Act and replacing it with the British Bill of Rights.

The former Home Secretary will be all-too aware of the government missing its targets to cut immigration. According to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, net migration for the year up to March reached more the 327,000; triple the government target. Although it is actually 9,000 lower than the same time last year, it still does not meet the government’s target of fewer than 100,000.

uk border control

Along with missing its targets, a key pledge of the ‘vote leave’ campaign was cutting back immigration. So it is no surprise that May is tackling this head on.

Under plans being considered by ministers, low-skilled migrants from the EU would have to apply for permits to work in Britain after it leaves the European Union. May is also planning to target international students.

Referring to a 2014 report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, when foreign student numbers dropped for the first time in three decades following a rise in tuition fees and a tightening of student visa controls, the study warned that the decline risked having a ‘major impact’ on university finances, with around 30 per cent of institutions’ total income coming from foreign students.

In 2014, international students were worth approximately £3bn a year to UK universities. So we have already seen criticism of this pledge in the past.

While this seems to meet the expectations of the ‘vote leave’ majority, scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with the British Bill of Rights is a proposal of the Conservative Government, included in their 2015 election manifesto.

Secretary of State for Justice Liz Truss announced that the party will go ahead with a new piece of primary legislation but did not give a time frame for the new bill of rights to be implemented, nor any detail of what might be in the bill.

But what exactly is the Human Rights Act and what may we potentially see in the British Bill of Rights?

human rights act 1998

WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT?

  1. The human rights contained within this law are based on the article of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  2. The HRA was passed in 1998, with the aim of incorporating the rights detailed in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.
  3. The Act ‘gives further effect’ to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention, which means:
  • Judges must read and give effect to legislation (other laws) in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights;
  • It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.
  1. The HRA was loudly taken up by the Conservative Party, then in opposition, as an infringement on UK sovereignty as well as a piece of legislation that hamstrung law enforcement.

Though we are not yet sure what the bill of rights will contain, we can take a look at May’s past speeches and pledges to estimate what may be contained within it.

In 2013, Theresa May said:

“This is Great Britain, the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world…And we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament”.

This speech as well as her desire to bring in the Investigatory Powers Bill, which grants law enforcement powers and allows the government to keep your internet search history on record for 12 months, suggests the government will expand its surveillance powers. This can be seen as an aid to security but on the other hand an invasion of personal privacy.

Also in 2013, after the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada, a 12 year court battle, and £1.7million cost to the taxpayer, May said:

“I am also clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport.”

In her then role as Home Secretary in 2011, May took up the issue with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act saying it prevents the deportation ‘of people who should not be here’. This suggests the bill will give greater authority to UK law enforcement to ensure public safety and dealing with the threat of international terrorism, and ‘remove the many layers of appeals’ to make deportation easier.

However, the number of deportations prevented is around 10 per cent. In 2011, 1,888 appeals were made against such deportation, and only 185 of those were successful on the grounds of Article 8.

May has also championed Extremism Disruption Orders, aimed at outlawing ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’. Vague in its terminology, it suggests limiting freedom of speech. However, it can be seen as a positive in that it could prevent public speeches that incite violence and encourage extremism.

She has also attempted to get Ofcom to vet television programmes before broadcast to crack down on extremist views, which could be seen as aiding public safety and preventing extremism, but can also be seen as amounting to censorship and a breach of the freedom of press.

With her clamping and cracks-downs and little opposition with the Labour Party crumbling, we need to ensure we do not get the raw end of the deal. For example, we do not want to be encouraged to take stay-cations while May is sunning herself in Switzerland.

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