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Why UK Tories Resent Europe’s Human Rights Court

St Margaret's Bay after the migrants landed from France..

St Margaret's Bay after the migrants landed from France..

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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In its seven-decade history, only two nations have abandoned the European Convention on Human Rights: Greece during a period of military rule, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The treaty’s basic principles — covering things like free elections, respect for property rights and access to education — are hardly controversial. Yet to some lawmakers in Britain’s governing Conservative party, the European Court of Human Rights that enforces the convention represents the kind of meddling, supranational institution they thought they’d seen the back of when the UK left the European Union in 2020. Now Britain is threatening to break the convention to give the government a freer hand to deal with unwanted migrants, emboldening politicians who want to walk away from it entirely. 

The convention was established shortly after the end of the World War II to promote human rights, freedom and democracy. One of its driving forces was Winston Churchill — the wartime statesman revered today by Brexit supporters as a symbol of British independence and self-reliance. The UK was the first nation to ratify the convention drafted in 1950 and enacted in 1953. It forms part of a broader set of commitments agreed by signatories to the 46-member Council of Europe, of which the UK remains a member despite its departure from the EU.