We must take the opportunity of Brexit to return to the great British tradition of civil liberties

Brexit is so close that I can almost taste it. If Parliament continues on its current path, the UK will leave the EU in just six weeks. The drama around the Withdrawal Agreement and the various defeats the Government has faced in the House of Commons – along with the Irish border and future trading […]

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Brexit is so close that I can almost taste it. If Parliament continues on its current path, the UK will leave the EU in just six weeks.

The drama around the Withdrawal Agreement and the various defeats the Government has faced in the House of Commons – along with the Irish border and future trading relationship questions – have dominated the news and eaten up our attention.

But when I voted to leave the EU I was not only thinking of trade and borders: I saw an opportunity to look to the best of British traditions and make them central to our future. And chief among the great British traditions that we wandered away from during our membership of the EU is respect for civil liberties.

As far as I’m concerned protection of civil liberties is the greatest of British traditions, dating back well over 800 years and affirmed by Magna Carta in 1215. Various other Acts and Bills have reaffirmed those liberties over the centuries, culminating in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which the UK signed in 1950, and the Human Rights Act 1998 which changed how ECHR rulings are implemented in the UK.

The ECHR has attracted a lot of criticism over the years, as the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has expanded to interfere in more and more things, such as preventing the deportation of criminals including terrorists.

At the same time as the ECHR has led to many instances of being too soft on ‘human rights’, our membership of the EU has meant that some of our traditional civil liberties have been neglected.

Our relationship with the ECHR will not change when we leave the EU, but nevertheless Brexit represents an opportunity to renew our commitment to those civil liberties that have been laid down in law since 1215. And in my view it is of extreme importance that we reform the way extradition to EU countries works.

At present, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) governs extradition between the UK and other EU countries. The EAW assumes that all justice systems across the EU are of equal quality, and that fundamental rights and liberties will be respected. This is, of course, nonsense.

There are two extracts from two very important pieces of British historical text that are relevant to how we handle extradition today.

Magna Carta said:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled; nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

And the 1689 Bill of Rights said:

“…excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

But over the last two decades the EU has expanded to take in a series of countries that routinely deny these civil liberties in their justice systems, putting British citizens and residents at risk of their traditional British civil liberties being denied.

These violations of civil liberties laid down in Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights are best measured by violations of two articles of the ECHR: Article 3 (prohibition of torture) and Article 6 (right to a fair trial). My report, published by Due Process, found that the top violators of these two rights over the last few years included countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

But by far the worst in the EU in recent years was Romania, with numbers of violations comparable to Russia. There are a number of problems with Romania’s justice system; there are no jury trials, for example. But recent revelations about the role of the SRI, the Romanian intelligence service, in the prosecutor’s office have been shocking. Some experts have argued that these secret protocols amount to a ‘police state’ – and that’s what the EAW system leaves each and every one of us vulnerable to.

The Government has said that it wants to replicate the functions of the EAW from outside the EU. The EAW undoubtedly makes extraditions much easier, but at the cost of civil liberties. Continuing the UK’s membership of such a system would be a grave mistake.

It’s time for those of us who campaigned and voted to leave the EU to speak up, loud and clear, for the kind of future we want for our country. Not just on trade, borders and immigration, but in terms of the great British traditions we ought to restore. When the UK finally exits the EU, we should renew our commitment to civil liberties.

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Leo Docherty: No other country allows soldiers doing their duty to face perverse legal pursuit

The armed forces do not wish to be above the law. The Human Rights Act has had perverse consequences, which have caused injustice.

Leo Docherty is the MP for Aldershot. He is a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former soldier.

This week in the House of Commons I proposed a bill which would ensure that the UK derogates from the European Convention on Human Rights prior to deploying troops on combat operations. I did this because we need to ensure that our armed forces are protected from legal pursuit and that their resolve and capability to deliver hard fighting power, when needed around the world, is undiminished.

The legal pursuit of our soldiers and veterans is a particularly painful chapter in our country’s history and must be urgently resolved. Last year in my constituency, in the Aldershot garrison, I had a conversation with a senior soldier who had just left the Army after three decades of distinguished service serving in the most elite units, in the most brutal and demanding theatres of operation. His experience of sustained legal pursuit in relation to operations in Afghanistan left him with a deep sense of betrayal. Even though he was the son of a soldier and himself had served 30 years, he told me “my sons will not serve” which pained me.

Of course, soldiers do not wish to be above the law. They just want to be under the right one. For generations, the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions governed operations carried out by our soldiers, until that is, until 1998 when the unintended consequences of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR kicked in, leading to a catalogue of injustice involving hundreds of soldiers from all operational theatres; Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

No other country has such a perverse situation in which soldiers doing their duty face this kind of legal pursuit. Indeed, ten countries – including France and Spain have in effect opted out of certain aspects of the ECHR. So there can be a way forward, a way which my colleague Tom Tugendhat MP has tirelessly pointing out since his election to the Commons in 2015. The excellent Policy Exchange Report which he co-authored Clearing the Fog of Law makes clear the alarming manner in which our Armed Forces are entangled in Human rights law, to the extent that the ECHR applies wherever and whenever a British soldier employs forces. This means that foreign nationals, including enemy combatants can sue the UK for breach of the ECHR both in courts in London and Strasbourg following military operations. To prevent this we must – as other countries have done – derogate from the ECHR.

Another powerful voice is that of Johnny Mercer MP, my fellow member on the Defence Select Committee who has tackled head-on the outrageous scandal of the Iraq Historical Allegations Team and was instrumental – along with other members of the Defence Committee – in urging Sir Michael Fallon to close it down. The Defence Committee continues to investigate the scandal of legal pursuit and we have heard from witnesses about how the army is “running scared of the law”.

This is something that must end. And it must end, not only because of the past and the painful spectacle of legacy cases which cause so much distress to service men and women and their families. It must end because of future operations. Getting the legal basis of military operations right underpins the central mission of our national defence at this time; the rejuvenation of our armed forces to meet the complex new threats that we face.

Whether we like it or not we will need to, in the future, fight our enemies abroad. We need to be honest with ourselves about that. Soldiers are versatile and adaptable, they can be superb peace-keepers, aid workers, policemen, diplomats. They can and do perform all of these roles. But they are first and foremost, above all else, soldiers – whose task is deliver overwhelmingly military fighting power to kill and destroy our enemies.

And they must have the correct basis in law for them do that – in situations where domestic human rights law is simply not applicable. Soldiers need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf by adhering to the Geneva Conventions and the Law Of Armed Conflict. They need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf – and know that they will not then face spurious legal accusations decades after the event. And they need to know that they can deploy and fight on our behalf with the full confidence of our government, our society behind them.

For these reasons I hope that the government will back my private members bill, because as well as being a manifesto pledge and something all Conservatives can surely agree on, it is an issue, ultimately, of protecting the people of our Armed Forces and our national security.

Iain Mansfield: We must recapture the commanding heights of society from the Left

It has secured an overwhelming dominance. Until or unless this changes, the Right may win elections – but to limited effect.

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

A stark feature of the 2017 election was the emergence of an army of independent groups and organisations backing Labour, with very few backing the Conservatives. From ivory trading to welfare reform, school funding to tuition fees, influential groups were queuing up to support the policies of the Left. The election demonstrated that whilst the Conservative Party can still win more votes, the Left has secured an overwhelming dominance amongst those traditionally seen as opinion formers and societal leaders.

A poll held shortly before the election found that fewer than one in ten university staff members were planning to vote Conservative. Statistics amongst teachers are similar, with the BBC recently quoting a former Conservative teacher as saying, “Walking into a teachers’ room is like walking into a socialist convention.” The major charities, many of which receive the bulk of their funding directly from the state rather than from individuals, are vastly more sympathetic to Labour, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as other senior bishops, regularly criticise Conservative policies in the press. The civil service is a little more balanced, though the startlingly consistent views of former permanent secretaries on Brexit demonstrates that the broad church of conservatism does not appear to be well-represented at the highest levels.

It wasn’t always this way. The Church of England was once known as ‘The Tory Party at prayer’, whilst the Sir Humphreys of their day were stalwarts of conservatism. Academia has always had a Marxist streak, but as late as the 1950s it was credible for CP Snow to set a novel in a Cambridge college divided into left-wing and right-wing factions. The Left also had its strongholds, from the trade unions to the Fabian Society, which groups on both sides contributing to the public debate.

We cannot simply abandon entire swathes of society to the left. This is true not simply for the short-term goal of winning votes, but  because of the importance of such institutions in shaping society as a whole, including via the education of the young and the contribution to political and societal discourse. An important part to this is ensuring there are no areas of society where Conservative voices cannot be heard, as Sam Gyimah, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others are doing with their campus tours. But if we are to reclaim these institutions for conservatism, we must do much more.

A more positive approach to the public sector

As Conservatives, we rightly believe that the private sector can often do a better job than the public sector at delivering the outcomes that people want. It is important to remember, however, that this is for structural reasons: the incredible power of prices as signalling mechanisms, or the way that meaningful competition can unleash innovation and improvements in performance.

Too often when speaking on this subject, some Conservative politicians give the impression that they believe that people who work in the private sector are innately better, more capable or harder working – a conclusion that is not just wrong, as anyone who has spoken to a nurse or teacher will tell you, but which understandably alienates hard working public sector employees, driving them into the arms of our opponents. When championing the  private sector we must ensure we do so for the right reasons, and do not simultaneous denigrate the public sector.

Alongside this, as many Conservative MPs have already called for, we must take a more compassionate approach to public sector salaries, particularly for those on lower and middle incomes. The touch decisions taken by the Coalition to freeze pay and reform pensions were badly needed, but after eight years of pay restraint, salary increases in line with inflation are essential if we are to granted a fair hearing.

Strategically selecting Conservatives when making public appointments

Many of the most important public decisions in the UK are not made by government ministers, but by arms-length bodies. Ministers have little direct control over such bodies, but the principal power they do have is to appoint their leadership, typically including the chief executive, air and board members. Unfortunately, whilst Labour ministers typically appoint individuals who share their values, Conservative ministers have typically taken a more even-handed approach, meaning – as ConservativeHome has long recognised – Labour supporters are significantly over-represented in such positions.

Encouraging more applications is a good start; however, it is not sufficient. Conservative ministers must ensure that they actively select appointees who share conservative values. If necessary they must be willing to use their existing powers to overrule officials’ advice and insist either on reopening applications, or appointing an otherwise qualified individual.

I am not suggesting that every appointee must be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. There are many excellent individuals for whom their political views, whatever they may be, do not significantly impact their professional outlook or decisions. There may also be some exceptions: foreign policy, for example, is an area where left and right often agree and which therefore may allow cross-party appointments, as illustrated in art by President Santos’s appointment of Arnold Vinick as Secretary of State, or in life by the superb recent appointment of Gisela Stuart as Chair of Wilton Park. But in the main, to hand over large swathes off our economic and social landscape to those who are open Labour supporters, active in the left-wing union movement, or otherwise opponents of conservatism does great harm to our cause.

Dismantle New Labour’s left-wing policy laws

One of Blair and Brown’s most insidious legacies is the number of laws that enshrine a left-wing bias in our policy making. Little known by the general public, and often included as part of otherwise worthwhile Acts, such clauses force civil servants to couch their advice in the language of the Left; not due to bias on their part, but through rightful, dutiful adherence to the law of the land.

The Human Rights Act’s commandment that ministers must consider the human rights implication of any Bill brought before Parliament; the ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ in the (otherwise positive) Equalities Act; the so-called ‘fair access’ regime in university admissions; and the exclusion of the UK’s national interest from the International Development: these laws, amongst others, create a policy framework in which left-wing views find fertile fruit more readily than conservative ones. The systematic amendment of such Acts is a vital part of restoring the civil service’s ability to genuinely provide objective, impartial advice to ministers.

The commanding heights of society

When Tony Blair revised Clause IV of the Labour Party’s constitution, it was taken as a sign that he had renounced Marx’s instruction for the state to take control of the commanding heights of the economy. Not only was this judgement premature, as Corbyn’s return to fully-fledged socialism demonstrates, we overlooked the way the left was establishing its dominance across society. If the Conservative party is to thrive in the twenty-first century, we must act now to reclaim the commanding heights of society for conservatism.