In what seems like a follow-up to his stupidly short-sighted refusal to join all 26 other EU leaders in signing up to treaty change at the summit in Brussels on 9 December last year, David Cameron is again displaying his ignorance on European matters.
Cameron now wants to reform the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is, incidentally, nothing to do with the European Union. While there is probably no institution on this earth which would not benefit from some kind of sensible reform, Cameron’s attack on the ECHR is undoubtedly motivated by a desire to appease the feral Eurosceptic Tories who not only make up much of the Parliamentary Conservative Party but were also instrumental in electing Cameron as Party Leader.
Cameron obviously knows little about ECHR. In yesterday’s Independent Sir Nicholas Bratza, the British judge who heads up the Court, put forward a sterling defence of its long and distinguished record, citing, amongst other things, the judgements which allowed the media to challenge restrictions on reporting the Thalidomide case and ensured child criminals were not charged in adult courts.
David Cameron’s attitude to the ECHR becomes even more dislocated when the history of British cases tried in the Court is examined. Over the past 12 months Britain only lost eight of the 955 applications sent to the ECHR. This fact alone makes a complete mockery of David Cameron’s accusation that the ECHR “meddles” in internal UK matters.
Maybe Cameron should look hard at the two cases he believes did constitute interference – allowing prisoners to vote and the ruling that the radical cleric Abu Qatada cannot be returned to Jordan. I believe prisoners have basic human rights, the franchise being one of them. In the case of Abu Qatada, the ECHR would not allow the deportation of a man who would be tried by the Jordanians using evidence gained by torture.
Prisoners voting rights and the Abu Qatada case transported the feral Tory right into a state of apoplexy. This is the real reason Cameron is turning his attention to the European Court of Human Rights. Winston Churchill, who played a key role in establishing the Court, would surely turn in his grave if he knew the levels to which the modern Conservative Party has sunk.
David Cameron is displaying the same breathtaking level of ignorance about the ECHR as he has already done on the European Union. While I am prepared to concede there may be a case for reasonable reform of the ECHR based on proper evidence, this does not appear to be the way Cameron is looking at the issue.
David Cameron is also going it alone again. He either does not understand, or does not wish to understand, that European institutions are made up of many countries, 47 in the case of the Council of Europe which oversees the European Court of Human Rights. I believe that as a lone voice, albeit as the one currently holding the Council of Europe presidency, calling for reform, Cameron will almost certainly fail. To be successful, he will need to build alliances, something he does not seem to have done and may not be able to achieve during the six month presidency.
This is all very reminiscent of the debacle on 9 December. Cameron left the Brussels summit with nothing. We know he did not circulate the British demands to the other summit members until the night before rather than two weeks earlier which is the usual practice to allow time for discussion negotiation. We have also heard that Cameron did not involve the UK Permanent Representation to the EU in the preparation for the summit, an extraordinary dereliction of duty which lends weight to the argument that Cameron did not take the summit seriously.
David Cameron is treating the EU and now the ECHR with utter contempt in order to buy off the rebellious hordes on his backbenches. He is merely engaging in superficial posturing. I very much doubt if push were to come to shove he would actually take Britain out of the ECHR, largely because there would be a huge body of informed opinion against such a move.
What I personally want to see from the Prime Minister is honesty. The UK has been in the EU for nearly 40 years and the ECHR even longer. These institutions are part of the very fabric of our society and also have a lot of good in them. Britain is never going to come out of either, so let’s stop kidding ourselves.