Cummings calls on Boris to 'set aside' Human Rights Act to sort out migrant crisis


Channel crossings: Border force patrol following deaths

The Prime Minister’s ex-adviser took to Twitter to accuse the Government of failing to explain the facts included in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act (HRA) that make it “unlawful” to halt the flow of migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats. Mr Cummings claimed the ECHR and HRA need “setting aside”. But legal experts say that even with those “out of the way”, No10 could not “just do whatever it wants”.

Mr Cummings’ comments followed the death of at least 27 people — 17 men, seven women and three children — who drowned while attempting to cross from France to the UK via the Channel on Wednesday.

France and the UK blame people traffickers and smugglers for the tragedy.

Mr Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in a phone call on Wednesday they would collaboratively step up their efforts to tackle the migrant issue.

But Mr Cummings, with no faith in the leaders’ approach in addressing the problem, said he expects Downing Street to “echo to cant, lies, delusions and cheap sentiment – its favourite mode”.

He continued: “No10, parties and media will all, some deliberately, most ignorantly, fail to explain [the] basic fact established by Government lawyers/No10 [in] 2020: ECHR/HRA+JR makes it ‘unlawful’ to deal seriously with the boats.

“We could sort out the boats, it isn’t a hard problem but that means setting aside ECHR/HRA.

“Or we can prioritise ECHR/HRA. Like with anti-terrorism both parties prioritise ECHR/HRA. And lie about it.”

READ MORE: Pals of migrants killed in Channel disaster vow it won’t stop them trying to reach the UK

Dominic Cummings on migration

Dominic Cummings said the Human Rights Act should be ‘set aside’ to ‘sort out the boats’ (Image: Getty)

Mr Cummings was not the first to suggest the UK look away from the laws included in the HRA and ECHR.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, told “Practically, they could.

The Government could legislate and say, ‘We get rid of the Human Rights Act (HRA)’.

“There have been long-run discussions about the possibility of amending the HRA or getting rid of it altogether.

“The problem would be, there is still a party to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). And that ECHR requires states to domestically implement the rights.

“So, firstly, we would be in breach of giving effect to those rights domestically. Secondly, people would still be able to go directly to the European court because there is no domestic remedy.”

Despite Brexit, the UK is still committed to adhering to its current commitments to the ECHR.

However, the Government could follow Mr Cummings’ advice and turn a blind eye on the ECHR too.

People arriving in Kent after crossing the Channel

Some of the people who survived the Channel crossing on Wednesday (Image: PA)

Ms Ahmed, confirming that as an option, said: “Government could also withdraw from the ECHR.

“Then, imagine all of that is out of the way… It doesn’t solve what Dominic Cummings is wanting to solve.”

She continued: “He wants to get rid of all of the protections so we can just do whatever we want.

“Even if that was the case — we got rid of the HRA and withdrew from the ECHR — there are still other legal regimes that the UK Government are bound by.”

“There’s the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which in itself provides protections for people who are trying to come.

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Protest for asylum protection

Protesters gathered outside the Home Office in solidarity with refugees after Wednesday’s tragedy (Image: PA)

“If you’re trying to push people back and, in that situation, endanger their lives, that would potentially be in breach of your obligations under the ICCPR, which mirror what’s in the ECHR – so you’re not getting rid of it. You’ve still got other obligations that exist anyway.

“There is also Refugee Law, which applies and which, again, states you can’t send someone back.

“In addition to that, we also have the Law of the Sea, which is about this idea that there is a long-standing duty to rescue people at sea.

“It is not as simple as saying ‘let’s get rid of it’ because, in fact, the UK Government still has international obligations.

“What he’s getting to is the point that if you got rid of the HRA and you withdrew from the ECHR, it’s very difficult for people to get a remedy.

“But it doesn’t mean there are no legal obligations.”

Conservative MPs have this week urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to overlook human rights and international law to take control of the crisis.

Priti Patel: EU states frustrated by ‘lack of progress’ on immigration

More than three times as many people have crossed the English Channel this year than in 2020 – a figure putting increasing pressure on Ms Patel.

One veteran Tory backbencher, Sir Edward Leigh, dubbed the crisis a “national emergency” and reminded the Home Secretary: “We told the people at the referendum, us Brexiteers, that we would take back control, it’s clear that in this we have lost control.

“Will the home secretary bring in [an] emergency powers act to override the Human Rights Act if necessary and put these people in secure accommodation now?”

Blackpool South MP Scott Benton said: “The Human Rights Act 1998 has handed power to unelected judges and it is clear that the creeping power of the courts is directly interfering in our ability to get a grip of our asylum and immigration policies.

“Does my right honourable Friend agree that, if we are finally going to stop bogus asylum seekers routinely coming to the UK, it is time to scrap the Human Rights Act altogether?”

Emilie McDonald, a refugee law expert with a DPhil from the University of Oxford, is a UK Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at Human Rights Watch.

Speaking to she explained that under the principle of non-penalisation, irregular asylum seekers cannot be ignored.

Ms McDonald said: “This is a core principle under refugee law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the UK helped draft and is bound under the UK Immigration Act.”

“What Dominic Cummings is trying to authorise by repealing the HRA would only push people to take more dangerous and hidden routes and push them into people smugglers and traffickers.”

But even if the HRA was repealed, there would still be legal regimes the Government would have to follow.

The Convention, she emphasised, “protects the individuals’ right to flee by any means and the UK and other governments have a duty to protect those individuals when they arrive at their borders”.


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