We’re all foreign nationals somewhere: the Human Rights Act and the non-British

The Conservative Government’s proposition to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act is clearly motivated to meet a political aim as part of the UK’s isolationist policy. One of the essential components of the Act is that it incorporates the articles of the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) into domestic British law. However, the proposed plan for a “British Bill of Rights” worryingly reflects how the tides are turning increasingly towards withdrawal from the European Union, with parties such as UKIP gaining in popularity in the UK and with a referendum on the EU being in the works for 2017. Seemingly, this move towards a “British Bill of Rights” is a pawn in the chess game of European politics, rather than a true and honest discussion about human rights and their place in the British polity.

Perhaps the most worrying consequence of scrapping the Act is its effect on the rights of refugees, immigrants, and all other foreign nationals who find themselves in the UK. Currently, “you are protected under the Human Rights Act if you live in the UK. This includes if you are a foreign national, detained in hospital or in prison.” However, will foreign nationals have the same protection under a British Bill of Rights? This has become a mounting concern, and little information has been provided on what the Bill of Rights will actually contain.

Additionally, the fact that the Bill will be modelled on the medieval document of the Magna Carta seems simply bizarre. How can this document form the basis for modern and universal human rights when it originates from a strictly hierarchical feudal society? It is not up to the government to dictate who has rights (read: the native British), and who doesn’t (read: anyone else). Human rights should be universal. The very fact that only three of its original clauses are still inscribed in the law today, and that it was written to solve a squabble between barons and the King rather than solidify people’s rights, emphasises the fact that it is a document from another time, with little relevance to today’s society.

The Amnesty International website tells the story of a woman named Patience Asuquo, who was brought to the UK to work as a domestic helper and nanny. She spent almost three years in the late 2000s and early 2010s being treated in a slave-like manner, subjected to physical and mental abuse by her employer. The British police refused to investigate her case, being more concerned with her immigration status than the breach of her human rights. Thankfully however, under Article 4 of the HRA which prohibits slavery and forced labour, they eventually successfully heard her case, and set precedent for future work and advocacy against modern slavery in Britain; a problem which foreign nationals are at particularly risk from. Without the HRA, the story could have had a very different and more sinister ending.

This raises questions about whether or not the government would return to being preoccupied with more immigration statutes of foreign national than with breaches of one’s human rights if the HRA’s promise of equal European rights disappears, especially with the current refugee crisis causing an influx of foreigners into our country; it is thus an issue with increasingly distressing concern.

 

Nina Webb, Staff Writer

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