European Union

A British Bill of Rights is wholly contingent on the UK leaving the EU


Today’s Queen’s Speech is the first to be delivered on behalf of a majority Conservative government since 1996, when John Major was Prime Minister and ‘Europe’ was tearing his party asunder. The following year saw the rise of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, which advocated that the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union could only be justified with the explicit democratic consent of the British people. The “game, set and match” Treaty of Maastricht – by which we all became citizens of the European Union without being consulted – was just one of the factors which contributed to the Conservative Party spending almost 20 years in the political wilderness. But it was the foundational constitutional and philosophical one: it simply is not possible for the Queen to be both sovereign in her realm and a citizen of a suzerain political entity, subject to the judgment of foreign courts and the duties and obligations thereby imposed.

Two decades on, ‘Europe’ still skulks and division lurks, but Jimmy Goldsmith is vindicated. Today the Queen will announce that her subjects are, at long last, to be granted a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU, and all other proposed bills – on taxation, housing, counter-extremism, devolution, education – are shunted into the political penumbra when set against this crucial and historical matter of constitutional sovereignty. Whether you are an enlightened, progressive Europhile, a reasoned and moderate Eurosceptic or a swivel-eyed loon, xenophobic, crank, gadfly, fruitcake and closet-racist Brexit ‘Outer’, there is common ground that the democratic deficit in the UK-EU status quo has become unsustainable. Things have moved on since 1975: the ‘ever closer union’ enshrined by the Treaty of Rome has got ever closer, and is teleologically destined to get even closer still. To be a mere province on the outskirts of the United States of Europe is not any kind of future for the United Kingdom.

There is some dismay that the Conservative pledge to ditch the Human Rights Act is being put out “for consultation”. The Times has the story:

Times Bill of Rights

‘Consultation’ is often Westminster-speak for ‘kicked into the long grass’, but (..think about it..) a new British ‘Bill of Rights’ which demurs in any part or to any degree from the European Convention on Human Rights has to be preceded by EU secession: it is not possible to be an EU member without subscribing to the Convention or being subject to the European Court of Human Rights. Any credible derogation or meaningful revocation is wholly contingent on the result of the referendum.

The Conservative Party is split on both our membership of the EU and the benefits of the ECHR. Former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke is on the record as having dismissed the idea of a British ‘Bill of Rights’ as ‘xenophobic and legal nonsense’, and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve lauded the ECHR in his maiden speech in 1997, in which he said:

The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our national law is something that, although challenging, is nevertheless desirable if it can be done without diminishing the sovereignty of Parliament.

That is the reality of Tory politics. When you have a five-year window in which to fulfil your manifesto, it is unwise to rush through a contentious bill which is likely to fall because of a slender majority. Much better to address the HRA can of worms after the EU knot of vipers, and that would be Michael Gove’s preferred strategy, not least because enacting a British ‘Bill of Rights’ presents a number of profound constitutional implications of which he is wholly cognisant:

1) We already have a Bill of Rights. It was the legislative expression of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, and was part of the deal under which William and Mary became joint rulers, giving Parliament, rather than the monarch, power over taxation, criminal law and the military. It is not a mere Act of Parliament, but a foundational constitutional treaty of the order of Magna Carta, the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707. Does a new Bill of Rights imply the repeal of any of the provisions in these treaties? If so, it must be done expressly, for the doctrine of implied repeal may not be applied to constitutional statutes.

2) Is the Conservative Party (of all parties) really proposing to unsettle the Settlement of the relationship between the Monarch and Parliament, and the establishment of the Church of England?

3) A new British ‘Bill of Rights’ would not be binding on future Parliaments, for Parliament may not bind its successors. A new ‘Bill of Rights’ would, once passed into law, have no more chance of surviving a subsequent parliament or of guaranteeing human rights than any other bill passed by both Houses and rubber-stamped by Her Majesty. What is the point of enshrining any such rights in a bill, the provisions of which may be revoked at any point by a future parliament?

4) The Prime Minister has said that he wants the new ‘Bill of Rights’ to be somehow “entrenched”, to have a greater degree of permanence. But, if followed to its logical conclusion, this would give ultimate power to unelected judges rather than to elected politicians, and so judicial activism is not mitigated. Is the Conservative Party really proposing to abolish the supremacy of Parliament?

5) The Prime Minister’s past indignation at some judgments of the ECtHR was caused not by the remote judgments of unaccountable judges in Strasbourg, but by rulings from England’s ‘Supreme Court’. The Court is not supreme insofar as it is subject to the judgments of the ECtHR: section 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 instructs UK judges to follow judgements from the ECtHR: ‘A court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with a Convention right must take into account any (a) judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the European Court of Human Rights…’

So, a new British ‘Bill of Rights’ would not stop the rot unless it is preceded by an absolute assertion of the inviolability of parliamentary sovereignty which can only come about by EU secession.

We simply (or not so simply) need to re-assert those liberties enshrined in Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689, which are binding treaties drawn up during the age of revolution to enshrine the liberties of the people and define the limitations of government. The US Constitution came from the enlightenment mind of the 18th-century Scotsman. It is to England’s eternal loss that such principles were never set in stone during that era. A modern (or postmodern) ‘Bill of Rights’ could never articulate the same inviolable principles, especially if it sought to ‘build on’ the European Convention.

A modern British ‘Bill of Rights’ would need to refer to individual rights, which necessarily infringe the rights of others. It could not, for example, guarantee freedom of religion. The US Bill of Rights is actually the triumph of the Anti-Federalists:

The idea of adding a bill of rights to the Constitution was originally controversial, and was strongly opposed by many notable American statesmen, including Alexander Hamilton. In Federalist No. 84, published during the Philadelphia Convention on May 28, 1788, Hamilton argued against a “Bill of Rights,” asserting that ratification of the Constitution did not mean the American people were surrendering their rights, and therefore that protections were unnecessary: “Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing, and as they retain every thing, they have no need of particular reservations.” As critics of the Constitution referred to earlier political documents that had protected specific rights, Hamilton argued that the Constitution was inherently different. Unlike previous political arrangements between sovereigns and subjects in the United States, there would be no agent empowered to abridge the people’s rights: “Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was Magna Charta, obtained by the Barons, sword in hand, from King John.

Finally, Hamilton expressed the fear that protecting specific rights might imperil rights that were not mentioned: “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”

A British ‘Bill of Rights’ is supposed to embrace British values. These would include the foundational principle of the Common Law, which is antithetical to the EU Napoleonic model of law, Corpus Juris. It has been found by experience that Common Law is the bulwark against state tyranny and the best guarantor of our liberties.

So, as the Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor summon their commission of consultation, could they ensure that it includes those voices which may define what British values are or ought to be included in a British ‘Bill of Rights’? And, having done that, might they explain how this new British ‘Bill of Rights’ might justify Anglican Establishment in an age of moral relativism and religious equality? And, having done that, could they please clarify how the Bill might be consistent with the Prime Minister’s stated preference for remaining a full and participating member of the political institutions of the European Union?

  • Hi

    They should amend the bits which cause outage (e.g. the pampering of terrorists and the prisoners being able to vote) . In any good society, we don’t just have rights but responsibilities, so the title should be amended as such. As to what these rights and responsibilities should be, this should be the subject of nation debate. But they shouldn’t be imposed or imported by foreign legislation and foreign courts. Britain’s tradition is the rule of law, not rule by law.

    • dannybhoy

      As a geriatric supporter of UKIP who has read all the adventures of Peter Rabbit, I totally agree with you.*
      A society whose citizens have lost sight of their individual responsibilities and obligations is a society in decline, either headed towards some form of totalitarianism or chaos..
      * that girl on your blog has started a trend… :0)

  • Anton

    Yes, the only reason for doing anything before the EU membership question is settled is to be able to state during negotiations with other EU leaders is to show them that we are serious.

    If anybody is wondering, by the way, why Tony Blair shifted the highest judicial authority from the House of Lords to a Supreme Court, it was to further the separation between legislature and judiciary as in the republican model and make integration easier into a future EU superstate.

    • Richard Watson

      Aside from your deep insights into the mind of T Blair, there are many other reasons why separating these powers is a good thing anyway. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everything Blair did was wrong, just because he did them.

      • Anton

        Such separation is indeed a good thing but we already had it because the Law Lords have not been hereditaries and anyway the powers of the House of Lords are nowadays very limited compared to the Commons. Please tell me how you think the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 has improved, or will improve, British justice in practice.

        • Richard Watson

          I’m now not sure which side of the argument you are on now. In your opinion did the Act further the separation of powers or not?

          I’m not overall a huge fan of the Act. I tend to feel that the Lord Chancellor should be legally trained, or at least have better experience than merely being an MP or a Lord. On the other hand, I think independent appointment of judges is probably a very good thing, and certainly does further separate the judiciary.

          What we could really do with is some separation of legislature and executive, but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.

          • Anton

            I believe it wasn’t broke and didn’t need fixing.

            “What we could really do with is some separation of legislature and executive”

            Indeed. Power and responsibility should go together and be as widely dispersed as possible. Incidentally our sovereign presently has responsibility without power.

          • Richard Watson

            Yes. I think effectively we can consider ourselves a republic as regards where the power lies. Although not yet really a democracy.

          • Anton

            Indeed. In the 17th century a king who tried to defy Parliament got his head chopped off and 300 years later the king didn’t even have enough power to marry the woman he wanted.

  • As for brit-exit. It’s a bit like the family membership of my leisure club. I like the swimming pool and others like the gym. At present we’ve got let’s say platinum membership, so we can go to any of the leisure clubs in the UK including the London ones.

    But to keep my business I’m sure that if one were to want entry into the swimming pool only or a particular facility, then that could be negotiated, with a smaller fee being paid. Likewise, Britain if wants the free trade benefits, but none of the other bits, then she should be allowed to downgrade the membership accordingly. We’d not have as much influence, but that’s the price to be paid (or not to pay).

    We should wait and see what happens to Greece. If Greece declares bankruptcy and goes out of the eurozone, followed by Portugal, Italy and Spain, then there’s a chance of recalibrating the EU into the premium or platinum members and the gold, silver and classic members, rather than this silly idea of a pan European super state led by France.

    It’d lance the boil and make our relations with European neighbours much more amicable and friendly. The simple fact is that Britain and the European powers have different views on what they want the eu to be. We shouldn’t be forced into a super state, but neither should we force the Germans, French and others from not wanting to go ahead and create the fantasy of a Euro empire.

    Also the Waterloo anniversary , where the Duke of Wellington led a multi European army and and finally stopped the wicked dictator and villainous empire builder Napoleon Bonaparte, who just like the Brussels autocrats of today, wanted to create a pan European empire is coming up( My bronze medal is in the post !).The Prussians turned the tide and I wonder if Chancellor Merkel will be Marshal Blücher, to Cameron’s Wellington?

    • CliveM

      You make good point, if a majority of countries want a super state, we can’t stop them. However we shouldn’t be forced (and frightened) into joining them. We need another type of relationship.

      • Hi Clive

        I always make good points. 🙂

        PS : Just watching the splendid opening of parliament ,the magnificent House of Lords, the coach and horses, all the soldiers with their uniforms and swords getting ready, the heralds, the Imperial state Crown and the sword of state being moved, alongside the crown jewellers, the great Chamberlain etc . All these cool little eccentricities which make Britain what it is.

        • CliveM

          Hmm at the risk of swelling your head further, I agree. I don’t want some homogenised euro-identity. I want the full maddening, eccentric, bonkers British identity. Not because it is better, but because it is ours.

          • Little Black Censored

            AND because it is better.

        • Linus

          I saw a 10 second report of the state opening on an Internet news service a few moments ago. Old Ma Mountbatten was in full fig with half a ton of bullion on her aged head and the usual acres of dusty velvet and ermine hanging off her shoulders.

          Good thing we don’t have smellyvision – you could see the onlookers flinch as she staggered past and the stench of camphor and other preservatives from moth assaulted their nostrils.

          I don’t envy the House of Lords cleaners their job later today. Moulting ermine is a devil to get out of a close piled carpet. And what will the organic vegan “fur is fratricide” brigade say?

          Perhaps in order to promote harmony in your increasingly fractious and divided kingdom, parliament’s first order of business should be An Act To Abolish Her Majesty’s Mangey Old Cloak And Replace It With Something Man-Made And Ecologically Correct!

          • Anton

            The anti-fur brigade have done us a great favour because you can buy a genuine mink coat for less than 100 pounds on eBay nowadays.

          • sarky

            I bet you look lovely in it 🙂

          • Anton

            “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

  • Orwell Ian

    There is no point in expending effort to produce a Bill of Rights unless and until we get out of the EU. I have doubts about the wisdom of drafting one even then. We are no longer a monoculture. There is no consensus on British Values, mainly because some values in circulation are not remotely British. The matter is further complicated by the consequences of devolution madness that bedevils the Union. Any new Bill of Rights would probably end up as nothing more than a standalone version of the Human Rights system we are already subject to. The Rights wouldn’t be worth very much anyway if they could be abolished by a future Parliament not bound by its predecessor.

  • Malcolm Smith

    Here in Australia we have been constantly out-manoeuvring those of the left who want to foist a bill of rights on us – and for the obvious reason: we have seen the workings of the US system, and every other system which has copied it. Once you have a bill of rights, you hand over decision making in all the most important aspects of government from the elected representatives to unelected judges. The latter may act responsibly at the beginning, but eventually power goes to their heads, and they interest the law according to their own political views, irrespective of what the original writers of the law, the citizens, or the moral law might say.

  • cypruspete

    My understanding is that this is not the case.

    We were, after all signatories to the ECHR [and therefore liable to action from ECtHR] before Bliar brought in the HRA, and, as a state bound by it. This is the condition for membership of the EU.

    What the HRA actually achieved was that the ECHR was effectively “read” straight in to English Law, thus becoming directly actionable by English judges in cases without someone having to appeal to the ECtHR directly as a first port of call.

    Were we to repeal the HRA, all that would happen would be we would go back to the old status, where HMG are still signatories to the ECHR and therefore have obligations under it [satisfying the EU entry conditions] however individuals would not be able to rely on English Courts to protect their rights under the act, so that if they felt their rights had been violated either by a lack of UK Legislation, or that legislation ran directly contrary to the ECHR, they could not seek relief directly in the UK courts, but would have to go straight to ECtHR.

    It would also mean that only the Government was liable, and therefore individuals could not sue other individuals [or companies, of course] either in English courts or the ECtHR.

    This, in turn, would mean that all work would dry up for the 1000+ English Human Rights lawyers, currently trousering large quantities of public funds to interpret this legislation which, as his Grace points out, was written to be enforced under civil rather than common law, and is therefore wooly enough for the legal profession to get rich “assisting” us in its interpetation

  • Johnny Rottenborough

    how this new British ‘Bill of Rights’ might justify Anglican Establishment in an age of moral relativism and religious equality?

    By giving its blessing to mass immigration and multiculturalism, the Anglican Establishment has put itself out of business. The Munby judgment of 2011 (download here) makes painful reading but does no more than acknowledge the new reality:

    38. Although historically this country is part of the Christian west, and although it has an established church which is Christian, there have been enormous changes in the social and religious life of our country over the last century. Our society is now pluralistic and largely secular. But one aspect of its pluralism is that we also now live in a multi-cultural community of many faiths.

    39. …the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form.

  • IanCad

    “A British Bill of Rights is wholly contingent on the UK leaving the EU”

    Well; no new Bill of Rights then? For sure, Cameron will bind us to the EU for the next generation with this insane referendum.
    I say, leave well enough alone. The one we have will have to do.

  • Owl

    “‘Consultation’ is often Westminster-speak for ‘kicked into the long grass’, but (..think about it..)”

    Well, I have thought about it but come to another conclusion.

    Dave has consistantly shown himself to be the true heir to Blair.

    Dave has consistantly shown himself to be an EU puppet.

    Dave has consistantly shown himself to liable to his master’s voice and not to the people.

    If a referendum ever does happen, then the result has already been decided.

    To think anything else is grasping at straws.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Your Grace, a fine piece. What does it all mean? LOL
    All this just makes work for the Lawyers. Like the 1000 Human Rights lawyers.

    I just want out of the EC with their deceiving ways. IF there is a referendum, I think that only those that voted in the 1975 referendum should be allowed to vote this time round.

    • not a machine

      I think HG is considering those lost in the understanding and need for the EU human rights and courts without considering we can disentangle ourselves from the instrument for something less ruinous .Other than that Shadrac Fire I quite agree with you.
      The news that France and Germany have an alleged ace in the tube with fixed corporation tax and ever closer working , may not work quite as they think ,I would think this will cause more money to flow in franco german channels and inflation , feeding in ? inflation and QE can be a bit of mix so question is how long before inflation cycles back and they cannot repay debt ? is my scenario ,but they seem to be want to create a finance gravity mechanism , and not a debt crisis lift ,oh well .

    • IanCad

      “IF there is a referendum, I think that only those that voted in the 1975 referendum should be allowed to vote this time round.”

      Regardless of the fact that I consider referenda as wholly incompatible with our form of representative government, why on earth would you wish to disenfranchise those who have a right to vote?

      • Shadrach Fire

        Those able to vote in 1975 will now be well mature and best placed to make a decision.

        • PaulMcKechnie

          Those who voted in 1975 have already made their decision, Shadrach.

          • Shadrach Fire

            We were lied to and mislead. Further, we voted for an economic community, not the jungle of administration we have today.

    • Anton

      Including the dead? (Note: they have voted in certain countries in many elections…)

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    A good post. I’ve yet to hear a good reason why one cannot repeal the HRA and return to the position in 1997. A new Bill of Rights seems unnecessary.

  • Stig

    There is a fundamental difference between the Human Rights Act and a Bill of Rights, at least as understood in the 1689 bill. Human Rights is about what rights we are graciously granted by our ruling masters (the EU). A Bill of Rights is about what rights and powers we the people allow our government to have. In that sense they are opposites. It is a question of who is the boss, the people or the government. The EU model of government is unaccountable and anti-democratic, as is the whole tone of the Human Rights Act. The Bill of Rights (and the Magna Carta) were extracted from our rulers by the people not the other way round. I am therefore very suspicious of allowing a government to draft a new Bill of Rights, especially if in the process they intend to abolish the old one (which I think only applies in England). It should be drafted by a group of representatives of the people entirely unconnected with the establishment or any political party in my opinion.

    • Is it a human right that governments should be “accountable” and “democratic”? On what are such “rights” based? On what precepts will any future bill of rights be based?

    • Pubcrawler

      “The Bill of Rights (and the Magna Carta) were extracted from our rulers by the people”

      Hmmm. Up to a point, Lord Copper.

  • Inspector General

    Time for that sovereign state, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to get out there and smash the place up. We were never meant to be slaves, and certainly not subservient to an economic block, which is what the then EEC was sold to us as. Our lying quisling politicians are found out, and it is unfortunate we can’t throw the deceitful bastards in gaol resulting.

    And so we come to Cranmer’s most profound statement today…

    it is not possible to be an EU member without subscribing to the Convention or being subject to the European Court of Human Rights. Any credible derogation or meaningful revocation is wholly contingent on the result of the referendum.

    Well, actually it is. What can ‘they’ do. Censure us? We ignore them. Fine us? We don’t pay. Suspend our membership of the blasted thing? Now you’re talking. Suspension would of course be taking our chair away from their table. We would still be in the EU as such but purely for trading. They still need our 55 million per day, that’s for sure, and as the economic value of them trading with the UK runs into countless billions for them, they will keep trading. But politically, WE WOULD BE OUT.

    Being out is not such a terrible situation. Of course, we no longer get to have a say in the future of the EU, but one asks this, WHAT FUTURE? As things stand, the whole rotten house of cards could collapse at any time, and the further away we are from the centre, the better. The EU has no future, not as it is, unless you mean a continent under the influence of German pre-eminence. There is nothing we can do to stop that. Nothing at all. So why even think we could ever do so.

    • IanCad

      In other words IG; UDI.
      Better known as: Stick it!

      • Inspector General

        Wreak merry hell, old fellow, until our demands are met unconditionally. We can do it, what!

    • Anton

      In fairness to the Scots, they feel about the UK like we do about the EU.

      • Inspector General

        55% for the union, you know the rest…

      • … the difference is the Scots are paid to stay in the UK and are now being granted more and more power; the UK pays to stay in the EU and its powers are increasingly diminished.

        The good old Catholic idea of subsidiarity needs to be reasserted.

        • Anton

          It was, under the name Devolution, but it only increased the Scottish appetite for independence. Tis a mess, for whatever the Scots do they are divided amongst themselves.

          • Always have been divided – the best way to keep them united is through a common enemy. Subsidiarity can only really succeed where there is a shared sense of common purpose and direction.

    • Poland will tell Europe to “get stuffed” over so called ‘equal marriage’. Ireland could have done so too if they hadn’t amended their Constitution. In or out of the EU a Bill of Rights may give precedence to British Law. That’s why it’s the British Human Rights Act that needs to be abolished to clear the way for this. We actually passed legislation tying us to the ECHR.

      • Inspector General

        Rebellion! That’s the way forward…

        • Not rebellion at all, just maintaining national sovereignty. That’s why the Human Right’s Act has to be ditched.

        • Linus

          I didn’t know they were planning a remake of Dad’s Army. Which role will you be playing? Not the mad Scotsman, I’m guessing. Nor the cut glass sergeant, if your grammar is anything to go by. The dithering butcher perhaps? Sounds like a good fit from every point of view.

          Good luck with your revolution. When they storm your barricades on Whitehall and you’re forced to surrender by waving a pair of baggy white Y-fronts from the end of your bayonet, do make sure you sell your story to the Rothermere media empire. One wrinkly old fascist crocodile will surely know how to present another’s story sympathetically in his gutter press. He’ll whip those Daily Mail readers up into a right lather. Fame at last, eh?

          • Little Black Censored

            You are Guy Verhofstadt and I claim my 10 euros reward.

  • DanJ0

    Article: “It has been found by experience that Common Law is the bulwark against state tyranny and the best guarantor of our liberties.”

    How does the work in practice given the reach of statutory law?

    • CliveM

      An example is the right to strike. Under common law, there was never a right, it was an illegal act. So what was created was an immunity from the consequences of the illegal action (if I remember my employment law correctly). Common law overrode statutory law. One of the problems would be understanding when that is going to happen and how it will work out.

      • Anton

        Why was it illegal under common law? All that is not forbidden by law is permitted, is it not? Striking might be a breach of contract but that’s not the same as breaching common law.

        • CliveM

          My memory is a bit unreliable, so I honestly can’t be certain. But I suspect it had to do with private property and contract. Typically a employment contract would entitle the owner to sack and the law would allow the owner to sue for damages. The immunity would have protected the striker from this.

      • DanJ0

        Interesting, I didn’t know that. I’ve just been googling about it.

        • CliveM

          Well if I’ve mis-remembered don’t tell !! :0)

    • CliveM

      Ps now the judges have acquired a taste for activist decisions, I’m not convinced they wouldn’t also use common law in the same manner.
      Which is why I think the legal profession needs to be more accountable.

      • Mike Stallard

        …and the Family Courts, acting in secret without any form of jury, gradually taking more and more power, depending on second hand evidence? Read Christopher Booker on the subject.

    • Long argument – short: we are created and designed to live in a certain way and as made in the image of God, we have inherent rights and responsibilities which societies need to be mindful of to survive.

      “Are there any specifically natural rights? I am contrasting these with the legal rights conferred by local or national civil authorities – the right to vote, the right to buy alcoholic drinks, the “right” to abortion, to gay marriage, and so forth. I am referring not to such “civil rights,” but to rights held by individuals simply because they have a human nature.

      “Nature” itself does not seem to grant any rights – especially if we perceive human nature as the end result of evolution, progress through the hunter-gatherer stage, competition between primitive societies, etc. What seems to result from evolutionary theory is only the right of the stronger – but not the right of survival, even for the strongest, since a multitude of the weak may defeat the efforts of the stronger. It’s a very precarious situation, perhaps best described by Thomas Hobbes as the “war of all against all.”

      “It would be an understatement to say that natural-law theory assumes a loftier view of human nature. And if we believe that there is such a thing as a natural law governing all humans, and optimally providing guidance to civil laws, natural rights seem to be necessarily entailed in the very idea of natural law.”

      This was actually the basis of the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948.

      • DanJ0

        Thanks for the non sequitur there.

      • Graham Wood

        Jack. “It would be an understatement to say that natural-law theory assumes a loftier view of human nature”
        I suggest that is a myth. There is no operable “natural law” governing all humans. There is human convention, custom, national cultures and many other different factors governing human behaviour.
        We don’t learn about the fatal fall of man into sin, into rebellion against God his creator, about his bondage to the power of sin, or the need for salvation through coming of a Saviour, Christ, through natural law do we?
        Biblical revelation reveals the “lofty” aspect you mention, namely that man is made in the image of God his creator, and it is Scripture alone which describes his fall and the terrible consequences evident day by day.
        The UN Declaration of Human Rights is actually irrelevant and as many argue above, there is no such thing as “human rights” as distinct from civil rights.

        • “We don’t learn about the fatal fall of man into sin, into rebellion against God his creator, about his bondage to the power of sin, or the need for salvation through coming of a Saviour, Christ, through natural law do we?

          No, that’s Divine revelation that enables us to return to our Father and overcome the effects of the Fall which both clouded our awareness of our Creators will for us and our ability to according to His original intentions.
          However, this plan of salvation by God, does not exclude the existence of Natural Law – God’s design for man and His law written on the hearts of each of us – distorted though it be by sin.

  • Mike Stallard

    As I understand it, the 1688 Bill of Rights was an act of parliament against the overweening power of the monarch.

  • Ivan M

    If any one person or institution sold the British into Egyptian bondage at the hands of the EU, then my vote goes to the Queen. More than any other single person, it was this personage putting up her meaningless ceremonies and pom-poms that fooled the British into thinking that everything was going to be alright. People like Malcolm Muggeridge had this figured out in the 60’s. The monarchy as it exists today functions as a drug to deaden the spirit, and is better replaced by Disneyland for all its worth.

  • len

    The whole subject of ‘rights’ especially ‘Human rights’ seems to underline to me the fault not necessarily in the ‘systems’ but in the nature of those using the systems.
    The assumption by secularists is that man is’ basically good’ and if he does not conform to this assumption then he needs to be retrained or re educated to’ be good’.
    This would all be OK if that assumption of the’ basic goodness’ of man were true but the evidence points to the absolute opposite.
    In almost every Country in the entire world today we see the presence of people who want to establish their own particular desires over the ‘general good’ of others and will do whatever it takes to have their will enforced.

    In short it is the [fallen] nature of man that is the problem and Jesus Christ has the remedy but such is the nature of fallen man (pride and a rebellious spirit) that he will not take it.

    Jesus Christ has the solution to all the problem that inflict mankind;
    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove
    from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”(Ezekiel 36;26)

  • carl jacobs

    “Human rights” are really nothing more than the image of God stamped into man. They mark the boundaries of state authority – the line the king is not allowed to breach as he exercises his stewardship. There is an important implication here. They don’t exist in the absence of God. Human rights are corollaries of the divine act of creation. A “right” presupposes a binding obligation that cannot be set aside. Who in the absence of God has the authority to impose that obligation?

    A secular world that has cast God onto the dung heap with the other rubbish thus finds itself in a quandary. It wants the benefits of God (an objective sense of human value that restrains the government) without the authority of God (and all of the moral accountability that tags along). It (hypocritically) wants to be free from authority even as it demands authority be bound. But if there is no authority to bind man, then what authority exists to bind the king? If man is a random collection of self-aware hydrocarbons that exists without divine intent, then man is morally indistinguishable from a ring of benzene. There is no obvious way to establish that a particular man has any value.

    So in seeking to establish some objective norm in a world emptied of objective truth, the world without God simply posited “human rights” as an abstract proposition. They have no basis. They have no foundation. They rest upon nothing more than political convention. They are granted by the state and they can therefore be withdrawn by the state. This must be true for there is no authority above the state. The idea is that the state begins with these a priori assumptions as a given. But there is absolutely nothing that prevents the state from changing its mind. It which case, “human rights” are revealed for the slender reed that they are. The government giveth and the government taketh away.

    What are “human rights”, really? They are western man’s attempt to re-establish divine truth once he has cast aside the authority of God. But in the absence of God, man really is just the mass of hydrocarbons. He cannot by fiat re-establish what he lost when he turned his back on the God who formed him from the dust.

    • Richard Watson

      I don’t agree with your overall analysis, but there is a fundamental problem in the way that the British Constitution can be so easily changed. A government elected on 37% of the popular vote can do away with anything it likes. Other countries are setup to require 2/3 majority for constitution changes, but it’s hard to see how we get there from here.

      • DanJ0

        The government in a liberal democracy gets its legitimacy and authority from the people. Hence, a government can be done away with, too.

        • Richard Watson

          Maybe, although one can argue that no government in the last 70 years in this country has ever had a mandate of the majority, except perhaps the last one.

  • Darter Noster

    So leave the EU. Obviously, before we joined the EHCR I was routinely taken to prison and beaten with electrical flex for my political opinions.

    Oh hang on…

    • Richard Watson

      It may not have happened to you. Are you supposing that torture has never happened in the uk?

      • Darter Noster


        Am I supposing that the recent lack of torture in the UK is dependent upon us enforcing the EHCR?


        Do I believe that within moments of the repeal of the EHCR dungeons will suddenly be opened to begin torturing the opponents of the regime?


        Do I believe that until the EHCR came along Britain was a terrible fascist dictatorship where the concept of human rights did not exist?


        • CliveM

          If such a Govt came along would the HR Act stop it?


          • Darter Noster

            Of course it wouldn’t. The Human Rights Act is ultimately neither use nor ornament. The only real purpose was to make human rights law massively more lucrative.

            It’s such a huge and fortunate coincidence that the Prime Minister who brought in the Human Rights Act had a wife who was a human rights lawyer and stood to make an enormous amount of money from human rights cases brought under that act. And to think that horrible people believe dreams don’t come true?

          • CliveM

            LOL, tsk, tsk, you’re not suggesting that the Blessed Tony is interested in filthy lucre are you?!


          • Darter Noster

            Heaven forfend that anyone could suggest that the Blairs might be interested in money!

            In a minute you’ll be suggesting that Euan Blair got his White House internship because his father was Prime Minister!

            And then I’ll bet you’ll be evil and cynical enough to suggest that Labour politicians who send their children to public schools and get them internships with MPs and top companies are somehow totally hypocritical!

            Shame on you!

          • CliveM

            You read my mind! Uncanny……

          • Darter Noster

            How dare you question the integrity of labour politicians!

            Obviously when Diane Abbott spent years condemning people who sent their children to a public school, and then sent her own children to a public school, what she meant to say was “Up the workers!”

          • CliveM

            Yes those tribunes of the working classes, Ms Harmen, Tristram Hunt, Chaka Umman (however you spell it), Tony Blair, not a single public school educated one amongst them…….

            Oh, wait a moment?

          • CliveM

            Have you noticed how labour leaders, at the age when most Tory’s are putting their children’s names down for a place in Eton etc, put their own children’s names down for safe seats?

            I understand the eldest Blair is looking for a seat.

          • Richard Watson

            Actually, doesn’t putting the wishes and best interests of her child above politics show a surprisingly good ethic?

          • Darter Noster

            So she spends years and years slagging off politicians who send their children to public school, and then sends her own child to public school, in a total hypocritical betrayal of everything she’s spent years slagging off other people for. And you think this could be a good thing? You really are the ultimate Blairite aren,t you?

          • Richard Watson

            No, I just think people are more complicated than that.

            It’s easy to poke fun at people we don’t agree with. Especially when they are politicians. It’s better to look at the important issue behind the story, that when people have the option to bypass state education, it will never be good enough.

          • Darter Noster

            Yes, terribly complicated. So complicated that after years slagging off people who send their children to public school, she sends her child to public school. That really is terribly complicated and difficult.

            “The working class can kiss my arse, I’ve got the foremans’s job at last”

          • Dreadnaught

            No, I just think people are more complicated than that.
            This statement has no bearing whatsoever on the points raised. If you can’t bat back an honest response that’s ok – but you are making a prat of yourself with this nonsense. The same goes for what you wrote to me in saying ; ‘you can argue that both ways’ then you don’t.

          • Richard Watson

            Ah, so calling someone the Ultimate Blairite is an honest response, which has a bearing on the discussion, but refusing to rise to that is making a prat of yourself?

            Thanks I’ll bear that in mind for any future encounters.

          • Little Black Censored

            “I just think people are more complicated than that.”
            I just happen to be a good, fair-minded person; I’m funny like that.

          • Merchantman

            Since when has H-y-p-o-c-r-I-t-I-c-a-l been a surprisingly good ethic? Hold on…

          • Richard Watson

            Depends if it’s spelled “C-h-a-n-g-i-n-g-Y-o-u-r-M-i-n-d”.

            It’s possible to believe that state education *should* be enough even if you think it isn’t (yet).

            BTW, I’m not a fan of hers at all, or her end of the Labour party (or even the Labour party in general). However I think she’s come in for undue stick about this. It would have been easier for her to do the truly hypocritical thing and move house to somewhere with a nice state school down the road and not worry about it.

          • Richard Watson

            Indeed but we could have an idea about what they were about to do, maybe if the first thing they attempted was to dismantle the HRA.

            Out of all the things this country needs ripping up legislation out of spite and replacing it with something else because we can, isn’t one of them.

          • Darter Noster

            “Out of all the things this country needs ripping up legislation out of spite and replacing it with something else because we can, isn’t one of them.”

            It was only put into our legislation 15 years ago. I’m fairly sure we can survive without it.

          • Richard Watson

            And this change is important because?

            There are so many underwhelming acts of parliament that I have to wonder why target this one?

          • Darter Noster

            Because this one has more legislative repercussion?

          • Richard Watson

            More likely because it’s seen as EU bashing, even though it has nothing to do with it.

          • Merchantman

            Because it has grown a festering mound of dependent lawyers?

          • CliveM

            Is it spite? Strange I can think of a lot of good reasons.

          • Dreadnaught

            You could start by asking yourself what was lacking in the British system of Justice that signing up to this European Court of Human Rights put right?
            Then ask yourself who proposed that we sign away the supremacy of highest court in the land and why?

          • Richard Watson

            You can argue that either way, but a priority for your first non-coalition government since 1997 – really?

          • Dreadnaught

            If you don’t regard the Rule of Law as important and that the Judiciary should be independent and not appointed by politicians or that the judges should even be qualified the I suppose your comment would be valid.

          • Richard Watson

            Good thing our new Lord Chancellor is so eminently qualified then, or we’d be letting the side down.

            I firmly believe in independently appointed judges, but it’s not as though we’ve had them here for very long. I don’t recall the Conservative party having that high on its agenda or supporting it in 2005 though.

            I would certainly reform the ECHR, preferably the judges would be voted in, in my opinion, although it’s hard to get people excited about such things.

          • Dreadnaught

            The role of Lord Chancellor is more of a note to the past tradition; he is essentially Secretary of State for Justice and responsible to his constituents – unlike Blair’s buddy Charlie Falconer. The New Lab 2005 Act set the foundations to this change of status to conform to ECHR authority.

          • Richard Watson

            So you prefer crown appointment Law Lords?

          • Dreadnaught

            I prefer State appointments coming from the Commons.

          • Richard Watson

            A minute ago you seemed to be in favour of judiciary not being appointed by politicians. Or are you referring to the Lord Chancellor?

          • Dreadnaught

            The LC/Sec State Justice.

          • Richard Watson

            OK, so my point is that prior to the UK Supreme Court in 2009, the senior judicial appointments in the UK were made by politicians. I’m referring to the “Lords of Appeal in Ordinary”. I believe the UK Supreme Court is an improvement on that, because at least its appointments do not come from politicians.

          • Dreadnaught

            In that I would agree completely but I would also request that the Supreme Court was what it’s title implies. This could have been achieved without signing up to the ECHR : evolution rather than revolution has been the nature of the British political character since the Civil War.

          • dannybhoy

            ‘I firmly believe in independently appointed judges’

            Where do you find them and how much do they cost?

          • Richard Watson

            In the UK we already have them. I’ve got no idea how much they cost.

            In the EU we’d get them from the senior pool of judges from each country. It could be made a condition of entry to the ECtHR that a country has an independent judiciary.

          • Richard Watson

            As you fairly point out elsewhere, I probably ducked the question too much.

            You rightly respond to the “why would we do away with the HRA?” with “why did we need it in the first place?”. I will admit that out of all the countries signed up to the ECtHR, maybe Britain has less need of it than most, and maybe this is reflected in the fact that the UK was a leading force in its foundation. It was more about us encouraging other countries to accept the British way of doing things.

            I’m not a lawyer (as you may guess) but a programmer. There’s a saying in software development which you may or may not be aware of: “We eat our own dog food”, meaning that we ourselves use the tools/systems/whatever that we create. If it doesn’t work then we are as affected by it as everyone else. That means that if it doesn’t do what we need it to do we should fix it for everyone.

            I believe that the court and convention are extremely useful in unifying legal precedent among the states that sign up to it. The actual rights conferred are ones which I would not want to be without, and I don’t think anyone else should be either. Are there any of the actual rights that you disagree with?

            There are clearly issues with it, “ambulance-chasing” lawyers might be one of them. However it doesn’t seem wrong to me to have a common outlook on rights, even if the implementation isn’t what it could be.

            The ECHR sets a base layer. Maybe in some ways it doesn’t go far enough, maybe it’s interpreted wrongly that extends its scope in ways that it shouldn’t. There’s nothing stopping the UK from extending rights in its own Bill(s) of Rights if it wants to, and there’s nothing stopping us getting support to fix any issues at the level of the European Court itself.

            If we are no longer invested in it then we lose credibility in trying to reform the court. We may say “well that doesn’t affect us any more”, but I think in the long run we benefit from a well-run court at this level. As Lord Bingham is oft-quoted they are “the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being” and as such I fail to see why, in themselves, they are contentious.

          • Dreadnaught

            An excellent response.
            The greatest objection I have to ECHR is that it is another step along the road to a USE. This was never put to the vote but there is now a second generation that has known nothing else. Law needs to be in tune with societal norms and more crucially; limits of interpretation.
            Britain has a long legacy of the reliability of Common Law to deliver what is acceptable to the British people. Laws foisted on any Nation without recourse to domestic understanding or desire does not deliver democratic justice.
            Tony Blair had his own career in mind as a future President of Europe by signing us up to the present situation. He was prepared to con us into deeper political commitment without consulting the British People.
            Just as there is no limit on how far the judges interpretation interpretation, there is not limit on where the deconstruction of the concept of the Nation State is heading.
            European law created by diktat and applied unilaterally is patently pie-in-the-sky. It is the plaything of career politicians so removed from the spirit of democracy as to be criminal. There is no limit to the amount of Brussells’ unaccountable meddling in the lives of Europeans of the old West in particular that the current generations that sooner or later the whole mess will implode when the reality dawns.

          • Richard Watson

            I can see that you might be worried by “thin end of the wedge” kinds of argument. You could possibly also point to the wedge being driven further in than “we all signed up for” already.

            I do agree that there are moves to remove power from elected people and put it in the hands of other organisations who may not have our best interests at heart. I think we’ve seen this with TTIP . I notice that this didn’t seem to trip the “must have a referendum” legistlation, maybe because powers weren’t being handed to Brussels but to unelected transatlantic organisations (probably working in the best interest of the USA). Or maybe because nobody still really knows what it means.

            I believe the way to solve these issues is to get actual democracy in all parts of the EU. I’m unphased by power going to people that I can elect or remove at whatever level. In fact in many ways I have a greater say in my MEP than I do in my (ultra-safe Tory) MP. I think better representation at all levels of government and (as Tony Benn used to say) the ability to get rid of people wherever they are is the cure for many of these problems.

            The fact that we are talking about this is proof that the wedge does not have to be driven in. People can try things and see how they work, adapt and change their minds etc. We can go backwards as well as forwards with things. However a prerequisite to all this is fair elections at all levels of government or wherever power is held. We don’t have this in the EU or the UK at the moment.

          • Dreadnaught

            PR has to be the way forward. As an island nation we have a distinct advantage to hold on to our identity. This has made other nations jealous of our imperial history, pride and sense of ethnic identity. They have scores to settle and I don’t want to see GB subsumed into a European group of statelets, We have no obligation in subsidising eastern european states or others beyond who are economically hundreds of years behind the curve. Its not natural not to want to defend our borders and that which we value. Birds of a feather need to flock together for good reason. To allow anyone into the UK without pre-checking is going against that instinct for self preservation. Ejecting them and their families they they transgress is only commonsense.
            ISIS is now on the Med Coast. Malta, Jordan, and Turkey are being swamped with refugees; how long before this is where Europe’s undefended border rests. Italy is struggling so is Greece.
            The Islamists have made themselves clear: they want to take Spain again and reassert it dominance in the Balkans at the very least.
            The current European attitude to expansion and undefended borders is crazy and will lead to the end of nation states and with that the West as we know it.
            It won’t be in my lifetime, but it will be the big issue before too long.

          • Richard Watson

            Glad to see we agree on something. PR, preferably STV, in my opinion, should be the bedrock of any democracy.

            I don’t think your other points follow. Personally I would rather ISIS or their ideology be dealt with before they arrive at Dover. It may be that the EU borders are not strong enough, so let’s strengthen them. I don’t think regular border control is going to keep ISIS out, if they are even ‘out’ right now, but that’s a different issue. However I don’t see why the EU would be in a worse position to deal with it than the UK, and presenting a united front must be the best response.

            Do you think Texas has not retained it’s identity? Or that California feels threatened by it’s lack of border control. The US states have strong identities without failing to be staunch members of a union, despite having a civil war at one stage.

            The EU is a much newer concept than the USA. Some would argue that the EU is not as unified as the US maybe pointing to common language as the gluein the latter case. I would say that I have as much in common with French or German or Dutch people that I have met than the disparate factions in the USA seem to have. The things that divide us seem to unify us the world over. I would probably rather live in France than a UK run by UKIP or similar.

            I’m not holding up the USA as the eventual model for the EU. In many ways I think that would be a worst case scenario, we can do union so much better if we can get to grips with our own politicians.

            I probably agree with you that fewer larger states are inevitable. Given that outcome I will not try to resist should it come, but try to shape it in a way that preserves the best of all our cultures. Trying to destroy the EU, or get out of the EU will fail. As a result our credibility in the EU will suffer. We’re a major political and economic player and should be using our position to shape the EU. Oddly Thatcher knew how to do this but where she could have improved our longer term interests she took short term financial benefits instead.

      • dannybhoy

        Details and examples please

  • Linus

    Well, thank you for the offer of the British crown for a day, however I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline. I’m French you see, so I know what a hazardous business monarchy is. I’m rather attached to my head and would like it to remain attached to me…

    I have a theory that your queen has similar qualms, and all this wearing of crowns is actually part of her overall anti-decapitation strategy. I mean, no other monarch trots out his or her jewelled hat on such a regular basis. It’s almost like she considers it as protective headgear.

    It seems to me that deep in the Windsor psyche there must lurk a racial memory of the fate of those unfortunate Stuarts, Marie and Charles. Wearing a heavy crown clearly compresses the neck, which might be useful when appearing before an English parliament with its unfortunate record of bloody retribution against its rulers. Reducing the expanse of neck that an axeman can target sounds like a good idea. And confusing his gaze with all that shine and shimmer means she could make a quick getaway if the speech were poorly received. I bet she could be out the door and back in her carriage before they’ve even had time to scrabble around in their velvet purses to find their sunglasses…

    Yes, there’s clearly some clever design gone into the British crown. So efficient is it that not a single monarch has lost a head since its première mise en service. Of course if the present incumbent keeps it up for much longer, old age and general wear and tear might see the royal noggin come adrift of its own accord, crown or no crown. So perhaps she should wear it rather more often in the future. It’ll keep her wig in place and help to avoid any embarrassing Anne Boleyn moments in public.

    Thinking about it though … perhaps future crown wearing ceremonies should be restricted to occasions where she appears sitting down. They could screw the crown to the back of her throne and she could slide under it like an old-fashioned hairdryer. If they put casters under her, they could roll her out whenever she’s needed, and throw a piece of green baize over her and tuck her away in a cupboard when she’s not. Lizzie want a cracker? Isn’t parroting her prime minister what she does best?

    And if all this seems exaggerated and ridiculous, I would invite you to watch the state opening again on Youtube. A frail octogenerian buried under a loose moraine of crowns and cloaks and gaudy orders has to be just about the most exaggerated and ridiculous sight the modern world has to offer. How could it possible be any worse?

    • Little Black Censored

      I think you have made your opinion quite clear enough.

  • Thando

    There are quite a few assertions in this blog which aren’t quite technically correct, and are a bit misleading. These questions have been thoroughly discussed and explained by the recent Commission on a Bill of Rights ( and I’d recommend reading it before posting, as it appears to have kicked off quite a bit of discussion under false pretenses.