Theresa May is an authoritarian. That’s why she wants to rip up human rights law.

May is using terrorist attacks to advance her long-running ideological crusade


In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Westminster in March, we commended Theresa May for her uncharacteristically restrained response to the incident.

‘We will all move forward together,’ she told the country. ‘Never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.’

Three months, two further attacks and a snap election campaign later, her restraint has disappeared. Since the devastating attack on London Bridge on Saturday, she has used reverted to her authoritarian norm in a desperate scramble for votes.

From Sunday morning, she has made crude statements about the ‘single evil ideology of Islamist extremism’ and the superiority of ‘British values’, as though Britain had a monopoloy on pluaralism and tolerance. She has advocated the expansion of police powers, but refused to acknowledge the resourcing problems that arose during her own period in the home office.

And yesterday, inevitably, she pledged to abandon elements of human rights law, which supposedly impede the government’s ability to tackle terrorism. This could include extending the possible period of detention without trial for suspected terrorists, the deportation of foreign terror suspects, and controls on the movement and association of suspected terrorists.

These extensions would almost certainly require further derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Of course, many leaders on both left and right begin to question certain particulars of human rights law when faced with threats to their publics. But even if we were to accept that some of these laws are not inviolable, we should not trust May’s motivations.

Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary and former Director of Public Prosecutions has pointed out that ‘there is nothing in the human rights act that gets in the way of effectively tackling fighting terrorism’ and argues that May is simply trying to divert attention from her failing election campaign.

Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister, agrees:

“None of this posturing about human rights is about keeping us safe. It’s all about making up for her lacklustre, flagging election campaign. I think it’s very cynical and I don’t think people will be taken in by it.”

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley called the proposals ‘a knee jerk reaction’ that ‘could be dangerously counterproductive.’

However, it’s also about more than the election. May has been fighting against the Human Rights Act and the ECHR for many years. As home secretary, she was a vigorous critic of existing human rights legislation, using any available pretext.In 2011, she used her Conservative conference speech to claim that she had dealt with an immigrant ‘who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat.’ (Note: she was making it up).

As home secretary and as prime minister she has attacked ‘activist, left-wing human rights lawyers’ who supposedly ‘harangue and harass the bravest of the brave.’ This sensationalist claim was also without grounds: there is little evidence of an ‘industry’ of ‘vexatious litigation’ against the armed forces.

So let there be no doubt: these latest statements are part of May’s ideological anti-human rights crusade. She is a classic authoritarian, who believes that the rights and freedoms of the individual are secondary to the self-identified interests of the state.

To use a terrorist atrocity as an excuse to pursue a personal political vendetta is deeply distasteful. To do it two days before a general election is offensive.

Once more, the prime minister’s mask has slipped.

Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

See also: Soldiers aren’t being harangued by lawyers – it’s a myth designed to discredit the Human Rights Act

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6 Responses to “Theresa May is an authoritarian. That’s why she wants to rip up human rights law.”

  1. Will

    Her use of the expression: ” superiority of ‘British values’,” is both typical and deeply worrying in the modern world. She is supposed to be a Christian but I cannot see anything Christian about her or her behaviour. Britain engages in warfare in the Middle East to gain oil and the hugh profits from it’s use and then expects the people who have been trodden on to just ignore it all as if it hasn’t happened. Of course there will be extremists from these countries retaliating and the way to stop it all is to talk, not to throw even more bombs at them. Corbyn is right in every sense on this subject and let’s face it, May is an extremist herself in many ways. I feel she is a very dangerous woman on a very dangerous path.

  2. NHSGP

    And you’re prepared to increase the risk to the inhabitants of the UK from terrorism.

    That’s the key to the argument.

    Whose rights take precedence?

  3. Madasafish

    As home secretary and as prime minister she has attacked ‘activist, left-wing human rights lawyers’ who supposedly ‘harangue and harass the bravest of the brave.’ This sensationalist claim was also without grounds: there is little evidence of an ‘industry’ of ‘vexatious litigation’ against the armed forces

    Perhaps Nimah missed this

    “A leading human rights lawyer has been struck off for misconduct after acting dishonestly in bringing abuse cases against the British Army.

    Phil Shiner from the now-defunct Public Interest Lawyers brought thousands of cases of historical abuse against the military and its role in Iraq.

    A disciplinary tribunal on Thursday proved 12 charges against the former Lawyer of the Year, including acting without integrity.

    Among the charges were that Professor Shiner, who chose not to appear before the hearing, paid a middle man to find and “cold-call” the families of potential Iraqi victims.

    The tribunal also heard how he had a “lucrative” referral deal with another law firm which meant he would get a cut when they pursued compensation claims from his clients.

    This resulted in a payment of £1.6m to Professor Shiner and his middle man.

    The charges came about following the Al-Sweady inquiry into the so-called Battle of Danny Boy which took place in May 2004.

    It investigated claims Iraqi detainees had been tortured, mutilated and murdered by British troops.

    Michael Fallon says the false claims have ‘made soldiers’ lives a misery’
    The £25m inquiry found the allegations brought by Professor Shiner were the “products of calculated lies”.

  4. Harrold

    Phil Shiner was not a left wing human rights lawyer he was a money grabbing Tory. Human Rights do not get in the way of stopping terror, if they do might I ask which one? Secondly are we going to defeat terror by changing our laws to one more like the ones they would impose of ever given the chance ?

  5. Alasdair Macdonald

    Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin – who is Mrs May’s acolyte in this? Your heroine, Ms Ruth Davidson.

  6. Madasafish

    “Phil Shiner was not a left wing human rights lawyer he was a money grabbing Tory.”

    And your evidence for that claim is?

    And here is another case currently underway

    “Disciplinary proceedings against the human rights firm accused of mishandling Iraq war claims began yesterday. Expected to last seven weeks, the proceedings are forecast to be the longest and most expensive in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) history.

    Law firm Leigh Day and two of its partners (Martyn Day and Sapna Malik) are accused of spearheading legal challenges against the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which were based on false allegations. In the words of Fountain Court Chambers’ Timothy Dutton QC, acting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA):

    Over a period of more than seven years, Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Leigh Day made and maintained allegations that soldiers in the British army had murdered, tortured and mutilated innocent Iraqi civilians. The allegations were false, and should never have been advanced in public.
    The tribunal has heard that Leigh Day, which has offices in London, Liverpool and Manchester, failed to check out its clients’ stories, then carried on pursuing the claims despite realising the allegations were dishonest. The firm has reportedly earned nearly £10 million bringing these claims.”

    Unlike Harold I back up my claims with references.
    Unlike Niamh, I do some research.

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