The Government is in a political hole entirely of its own making over the Human Rights Act.
For years they have cynically sought to portray the HRA as the perfect pantomime villain. 'Labour’s' Human Rights Act is an insidious socialist invention, a product of Comrade Blair and his all too brief and hitherto unheralded spell as a true revolutionary against the evils of capitalism and the free world.
Secondly, the Tories have painted it as foreign and therefore, almost by definition, a bit iffy. Well, not foreign itself obviously, because it had passed through our very own Parliament with thumping majorities. Nonetheless, it had something to do with that pesky European Convention on Human Rights and that definitely was sprung on our proud unsuspecting nation by devious outsiders hell-bent on destroying our way of life.
Thirdly, it doesn’t really give rights to normal people like you and me. No, apparently the Act is entirely made up of provisions giving rights to life’s toxic flotsam and jetsam. Prisoners – tick, foreigners – tick, terrorists (alleged or otherwise) – tick.
A deeply unhealthy symbiotic relationship between Conservative politicians and certain elements of the press has developed. They feed off, and become increasingly outraged, by distortions, inaccuracies and downright lies that they each peddle about human rights generally and the Human Rights Act in particular.
Having largely concocted a problem where one does not exist, the inevitable clamour that 'something must be done' then goes up.
The vicious spiraling between politicians and the press starts afresh with ever more extreme solutions proposed to tackle the imagined outrages.
The imperative is now to sound tough and 'do something' to stop these supposed abuses, with no place for any critical analysis of either the existence of the problem or the efficacy of the solution, certainly not from meddling extremists such as Parliament’s own cross-party EU Justice sub-committee.
Now the Government is reaping what it has sown and doesn’t really know what to do.
We are now being promised a British Bill of Rights that will somehow 'bring rights back home to this country'.
In fact, as the Government well knows, this is an impossible promise for two reasons. First of all, as long as we are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, we are obliged, as a matter of international law, to comply with the rights set out in the Convention.
Any attempt to somehow get the Court’s permission to ignore its judgments will fail as it goes against the whole point of the Convention. This obligation does not depend on whether or not we have a Human Rights Act, British Bill of Rights or anything else for that matter.
Secondly, Parliament is already sovereign in this country. Where the law in the UK, through an Act of Parliament, is clear, whether or not it is contrary to the Convention, the Human Rights Act does not allow our Courts to infringe the sovereignty of Parliament and strike down the law.
The most the domestic Court can do is to declare an Act inconsistent with the Convention. This does not change the law but gives a Government an opportunity to seek Parliament’s consent to remedy the matter.
If Parliament doesn’t, the law doesn’t change. Unfortunately, to paraphrase and update Neil Kinnock famous conference speech, impossible promises almost inevitably create their own problems:
“I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched stories in conference speeches. They are then pickled by a xenophobic right wing media into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs of the vulnerable in our society, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Conservative Government – a Conservative Government – scuttling round trying to justify taking away the individual freedoms of its own citizens. I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos – you shouldn't play politics with people's human rights.”