The welcome decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to delay the UK’s first flight of refugees to Rwanda has put an important temporary stop to a widely denounced policy. The court insisted, despite several UK court rejections of stays to the flights, that a judicial review currently underway in the UK must be allowed to complete its course.
That will examine accusations by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that the policy breaches the UK’s international commitments and look at concerns, from UNHCR and others, that Rwanda does not have the capacity to provide fair and efficient procedures to determine refugee status. Its human rights record is far from unblemished. The Strasbourg court, attached to the Council of Europe and a creature of Winston Churchill’s postwar vision, has long been a target of Tory sovereigntists bridling at “foreign” interference. Former British prime minister Theresa May’s plans to repudiate it and the convention it upholds had been on hold, but yesterday were revived with a vengeance as MPs queued to demand Britain leave. Boris Johnson said the issue was “under constant review”.
The safeguards and the judiciability of the European Convention on Human Rights, however, are woven inextricably into the fabric of the Belfast Agreement, both its institutional provisions and its human rights guarantees. A British repudiation of the convention, like its illegal attack on the Northern Ireland protocol, would represent another major breach of international obligations to uphold treaties signed up to in good faith. It would make London’s spurious justification for its attitude to the protocol – that of the “necessity” of defending the Belfast Agreement – ring particularly hollow.
Ireland and the international guarantors of that agreement, the EU and US, must make it clear to the British authorities that this is not a path they can venture down. The UK’s honourable standing in the international community and its ability to negotiate treaties depend on its trustworthiness.