Theresa May claims European Human Rights treaty has ‘added nothing’… despite LGBT rights victories

Theresa May (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Theresa May has called for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights – which has been behind many advancements on LGBT rights.

The UK is set to vote on June 23 on whether to remain a remember of the European Union – with the Home Secretary supporting a decision to remain.

However, the Conservative minister has turned her fire on the ECHR – a Europe-wide treaty drawn up after the Second World War.

In a speech today, Theresa May said that while the UK should remain in the EU, it should exit the ECHR, following on proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

Article 14 of the ECHR, which affords protection from discrimination, has been used in many legal cases to argue for protection for LGBT people, most notably securing an equal age of consent in the UK.

The ECHR was also vital in securing a settlement in the Republic of Ireland in 2014 on gender recognition. It remains influential across Europe on LGBT rights, with Italy also securing civil unions due to an ECHR ruling.

In a speech today, Theresa May said: “The case for remaining a signatory of the European convention on human rights, which means Britain is subject to the European court of human rights, is not clear.

“Because, despite what people sometimes think, it was not the European Union that delayed for years the extradition of Abu Hamza, almost stopped the deportation of Abu Qatada and tried to tell parliament that however we voted, we could not deprive prisoners of the vote. It is the European convention on human rights.

“The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.

“So, regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave, but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

She added: “Now, I can already hear certain people saying, Ah, this means I’m against human rights. But human rights were not invented in 1950 when the convention was drafted, or in 1998 when the convention was incorporated into our law through the Human Rights Act.

“This is Great Britain, the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world. And we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament.

“A true British Bill of Rights, decided by parliament and amended by parliament, would protect not only the rights set out in the convention, but could include traditional British rights not protected by the ECHR such as the right to trial by jury.”

Belarus, Europe’s only remaining dictatorship, is currently the only country in Europe that is not part of the ECHR.

David Cameron has previously declined to rule out leaving the ECHR – which would be an unprecedented step and has caused alarm internationally.

Mr Cameron said: “We’re very clear about what we want, which is British judges making decisions in British courts, and also the British Parliament being accountable to the British people.

“Our plans set out in our manifesto don’t involve us leaving the ECHR, but let’s be absolutely clear – if we can’t achieve what we need, and I’m very clear about that… when we’ve got these foreign criminals committing offence after offence and we can’t send them home because of their right to a family life, that needs to change.

“I rule out absolutely nothing in getting that done.”

Shami Chakrabarti, the former Director of Liberty, said previously: “The Prime Minister needs an urgent lesson in constitutional and legal literacy.”

Find out about six times human rights laws have helped LGBT people