Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

UK faces 'nuclear option' if it scraps European rights charter

  • UK conservatives want a weaker European Court of Human Rights (Photo: Council of Europe)

The European Commission may seek to suspend the UK's voting rights at the EU level should it withdraw from the European convention of human rights.

The threat surfaced after a Tory policy document issued last week by the UK’s justice secretary Chris Grayling revealed plans to downgrade the jurisdiction of the European court of human rights to that of an advisory body.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

UK conservatives want to renegotiate the decades-old pact with the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, should the court's judgments remain binding.

“In the event that we are unable to reach that agreement, the UK would be left with no alternative but to withdraw from the European convention of human rights,” notes the eight-page position paper.

EU member states also have an “explicit obligation” to the convention under the EU treaty rules.

Should a Conservative-led UK government decide to scrap it, the commission could invoke article seven of the treaties.

“Such a situation, which the commission hopes will remain purely hypothetical, would need to be examined under articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on European Union,” a commission source told this website.

Article 7 is commonly referred to as the ‘nuclear option’ of the commission’s enforcement arsenal and could lead to the suspension of a member state's voting rights.

It has never been used. Austria was once threatened over fourteen years ago when the centre-right party went into government with the far-right Freedom Party.

Invoking the article is also not easy.

A large backing of member states and the European Parliament must “determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach” of values outlined in the charter of fundamental rights.

London-based think tank Open Europe says making such a legal argument for a values breach, should the UK withdraw, would be difficult because there is a commitment to enshrine the convention in Britain’s domestic law.

Prime minister David Cameron had mooted the policy move earlier this month when he pledged to scrap the UK’s human rights act.

“Let me put this very clearly: we do not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg,” said Cameron in a speech at a party conference in Birmingham.

Critics describe the Tory policy brief and Cameron's pronouncements as an attempt to attract Ukip voters in the lead up to the elections and possible referendum to leave the EU.

Few case rules against UK at Europe court

The origins of the Tory grief is rooted, in part, in three disputed judgments handed down by the Strasbourg-based court on prisoner voting, life sentences for prisoners, and the deportation of alleged terrorist Abu Qatada.

All three decisions are unpopular in the UK, sparking complaints against the overall binding nature of the European court judgments on British law.

While the judgments are binding, their enforcement is limited to exerting peer pressure from the council of ministers, a political body.

The UK wins most of the cases brought against it.

Last year, the court dealt with 1,652 applications concerning the UK - 1,633 or 98.8 percent were declared inadmissible or struck out.

Only in eight cases – or 0.4 percent - did the court find at least one violation of convention rights.

The UK has had a total of 499 judgments passed onto it between 1959 and 2013. By comparison, Turkey has had 2,994, Italy 2,268, Russia 1,475 and France 913.

There are four possible scenarios for the UK and the Council of Europe.

First, it can remain a member. Second, it can withdraw after a six-month notice and join Belarus as the only other European nation not in the body.

Greece, while under military dictatorship rule, is so far the only country to have ever withdrawn membership.

Third, the Council can either accept specific arrangements for the UK, which don’t apply to the other 46 states running the risk that Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, possibly others may also make similar demands.

Fourth, the Council can accept in principle that the court’s judgement just becomes advisory.

The UK was among the first to ratify the European convention of human rights in 1950.

EU data verdict imminent on Romania's €20m reporters' fine

National data protection authorities from around the EU are about to make public their decision on a threat by Romania's data chief to force journalists to reveal their sources, in a case involving high-level political corruption.

News in Brief

  1. Visegrad countries meeting with Israel called off
  2. EU ministers call climate change 'direct and existential threat'
  3. Seven MPs leave Britain's Labour Party
  4. Czech PM: May's EU elections 'most important ever'
  5. 'History will judge us': May tells MPs on Brexit
  6. Trump warns EU on release of Islamist fighters
  7. Venezuela expels 'conspiratorial' MEPs
  8. Holocaust dispute upsets Israel's EU lobbying

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  2. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  3. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  4. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  5. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan
  6. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  7. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  8. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us