When Boris Johnson became prime minister in July, he assembled the most aggressively anti-human rights cabinet in decades. The current home secretary, Priti Patel, wants to bring back the death penalty. The chancellor, Sajid Javid, as a former home secretary, deported British citizens to the US without death penalty assurances and revoked the citizenship of Shamima Begum — who joined the Islamic State as a bride aged just 15 — leaving her stateless and at risk of death.
360° Context: Britain Faces a Historic Election
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, doesn’t believe in economic and social rights, claiming that it is “too hard to hire and fire people” in the UK, and has called feminists “obnoxious bigots.” And the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is opposed to gay marriage and abortion, even in cases of incest and rape.
If the Tories win this election, so many of our rights — from workers’ rights to women’s rights and everything in between — will be under threat. Even the most basic right of all — the right to life — is at risk. The Conservative Party manifesto euphemistically pledges to “update” the Human Rights Act. But let’s be clear, they won’t be “updating” it to strengthen our existing rights or add new ones — they will be stripping away important protections that apply to us all. Remember, this is the same party that in 2015 pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act altogether. With a Conservative majority, none of our hard-fought-for and hard-won rights will be safe.
Our Human Rights
By contrast, the current Labour shadow cabinet is united by its belief in — and respect for — human rights. Jeremy Corbyn has spent his whole life fighting for the rights of others, both here in the UK and overseas, and the party front bench is packed with human rights lawyers, advocates and campaigners.
If Labour wins the election, we will have a home secretary who is committed to civil liberties. Diane Abbott has fought tirelessly for the victims of the Windrush scandal and for women held indefinitely in immigration detention centers such as Yarl’s Wood and Brook House. Rather than punishing migrants, Labour will end indefinite detention and use the money saved to support survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. Instead of bringing back hanging, Labour will restore funding for prisons and provide support for people with mental health problems and drug addictions.
A Labour government would not just protect our existing rights but would create new ones. Labour has pledged to introduce a brand new right to food. Social rights like this are needed more than ever before. In the last decade, the use of food banks has increased by more than 5,000%. It is a moral disgrace that so many of our citizens have been driven to this. Labour will put an end to “food-bank Britain” and ensure that no child goes hungry in the fifth richest country in the world.
As well as food, Labour will end rough sleeping within five years, build thousands of new homes and ensure everyone has access to free education through a National Education Service.
But our human rights are meaningless if we cannot enforce them in the courts. The Tories know that, which is why they cut the Ministry of Justice budget — including critical funding for legal aid — more than any other department. There are now legal aid deserts all over the county, and millions of people have been left without access to justice. That is why Labour has committed not only to restore funding for early legal advice, but also to hire hundreds of community lawyers and build an expanded network of law centers. Labour will treat access to justice as a fundamental human right, the same as education or health care.
Beyond Our Borders
The protection of human rights would not stop at our borders. A Labour government — with Emily Thornberry as foreign secretary — would put human rights and international humanitarian law at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy. This means immediately suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and conducting a root-and-branch reform of our arms-export regime.
As Thornberry said at the party conference earlier this year, Labour will never put strategic alliances with dictators like Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman before our responsibility to uphold human rights and protect lives across the world. Our government should never turn a blind eye while our “allies” murder journalists and drop bombs on buses full of innocent children.
With Labour in charge, Britain would be a beacon of hope around the world, standing up for democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. But this also means coming to terms with our own history, which is why Labour would conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to better understand our contribution to violence and insecurity around the world. Only by acknowledging this can Britain credibly criticize human rights abuses in other countries, especially former colonies.
With so much focus on Brexit, it is important to remember what else is at stake in this election. Boris Johnson and his cabinet are so opposed to human rights that they are challenging their very existence. A Johnson government would not hesitate to turn back the clock on human rights progress — and even go so far as to repeal the Human Rights Act. This is what is at stake in this election and what we are fighting for. Labour will always protect and respect our human rights. The Conservatives will destroy them.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.