AMID all the usual shouting and mayhem at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, there was a truly chilling moment when Boris Johnson nodded enthusiastically as one of his more swivel-eyed backbenchers demanded the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Andrew Rosindell urged the PM to take the UK out of the ECHR as the only way to let us pass the laws necessary “to stop the endless waves of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel”. He also asked the PM to get rid of the Human Rights Act and bring in a British Bill of Rights. Although the PM declined to agree to either, confining himself to a “review of the human rights system” and songs of praise for the ghastly Nationality and Borders Bill, it was noticeable that during Rosindell’s diatribe, the PM was nodding.

Concerns that the UK Government’s review of the Human Rights Act (HRA) may extend to replacing it altogether and the UK’s withdrawal from the ECHR are not fanciful and they are widely held.

Earlier this year, the British government’s justice minister, Robert Buckland QC, reassured the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there was no intention to withdraw from ECHR – but he’s been sacked and replaced by Dominic Raab, a zealot for what is euphemistically called “reform”.

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Raab has said that the Human Rights Act is “fundamentally at odds with the British legacy of liberty going back hundreds of years”. He doesn’t like the ECHR much either and has previously talked about “the spread of rights contagion”, “unaccountable” judges and a court “lacking in experience”. He has been campaigning for a long time to end the jurisdiction of the ECHR in the UK and now he says he is working on a “mechanism” to bring this about by “overhauling” the HRA.

Earlier this year, after taking a lot of evidence, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) concluded that there is no evidence that the HRA requires reform.

We also found that the HRA is compatible with the Tories’ much-loved English constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty because while courts can find legislation incompatible with our ECHR obligations, the courts cannot overturn primary legislation, keeping parliamentary sovereignty intact.

We pointed out that the HRA is a central part of the UK’s devolution settlement and that to amend it would be a huge risk to our constitutional settlement and to the enforcement of our rights.

And we also said that the HRA “does not unduly constrain domestic courts” and that the requirement for UK courts to take into account Strasbourg judgements is “entirely sensible”.

We concluded that the UK Government must be cautious about any changes to the Act that would limit the enforcement of human rights within the UK.

So it was pretty much a trenchant rejection of everything Raab has ever said on the matter.

At present, we are waiting to see Raab’s proposals. We should get a taster next week when he gives evidence to the committee.

But it’s not just at home that a close eye is being kept on what the British Government is up to regarding the HRA and ECHR.

International human rights watchdogs are very concerned about the direction of travel. Last week, I wrote about the UK Government’s cavalier attitude towards ECHR and other international treaty obligations in the Nationality Bill.

The representative of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNCHR) told the Human Rights committee that “the UK so far has been a very valuable champion for refugees and asylum”. However, she expressed concerns that if the Bill was passed it could weaken the “UK’s advocacy abroad” as the UK would be “seen as not willing to do at home what it would be asking other countries to do”. The message is clear that the Bill will damage the UK’s reputation as a global champion for refugee and human rights

Similar concerns were raised this week by a delegation from the Council of Europe (COE) led by the President of the Assembly Rick Daems. They have been visiting Westminster to meet with ministers and select committee chairs. Yesterday I met with him in my capacity as Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee of Human Rights.

The COE is an international organisation founded after the Second World War to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It’s Europe’s leading human rights organisation and quite separate from the EU.

The European Convention on Human Rights was the first convention passed by Council of Europe’s convention and it is the cornerstone of all its activities. Adopted in 1950, it entered into force in 1953 and its ratification is a prerequisite for joining the organisation.

The political message from the COE is clear that the UK needs to be 100% on board with the ECHR otherwise our reputation abroad will be damaged and our lax attitude towards human rights exploited by other bad state actors in countries like Hungary and Poland.

As well as talking to him about the work of the committee, I also took the opportunity to update the president on the work of the Scottish Government. The contrast could not be more marked.

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The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are actively seeking to strengthen human rights protections. A National Taskforce on Human Rights Leadership was established in 2019 to take forward the recommendations made in the 2018 Report of the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights and to prioritise actions to progress human rights and equality in Scotland.

That report recommended the incorporation of four international treaties in a multi-treaty Bill incorporating economic, social, cultural and environmental rights as well as enhanced rights and protections for women, disabled people, older people, minority ethnic people and LGBTI people. The framework created by the Bill will demonstrate global human rights leadership placing Scotland at the forefront of human rights legislation and practice.

Of course, as we know from the recent debacle in the UK Supreme Court over the Bill incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Scottish Parliament only has power to legislate for rights matters in so far as within its devolved competence.

Only with independence can we truly enshrine human rights in the new constitution of Scotland and take our place among the top human-rights-defending nations. However, it was good to be able to tell the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly that not all of the UK is going backwards on human rights protections and to point the leader of a major international institution to Scotland’s very different direction of travel.