Mutual Respect? Interrogating Human Rights in a Fractured Union
By Colin Harvey
The preferences and internal politics of the Conservative Party continue to shape the constitutional future of the UK. The arrival of a coalition (Conservative-Liberal Democrat) government in 2010, followed by Conservative governments in 2015 and (in diminished form) in 2017, presented a challenge to human rights protection in particular. The Conservative Party has steadily developed a mild obsession with the Human Rights Act 1998, and remains determined to repeal it (eventually). Although current policies are framed by the new Brexit-inspired language of ‘Global Britain’ they often appear solidly anchored in forms of narrow nationalism (British and/or English). Accompanied as this is by versions of constitutional unionism, it seems surprisingly neglectful of what it is that might hold the UK together (if that is the desired outcome).
The UK is witnessing a sustained period of constitutional turbulence, as governmental instability combines with the looming prospect of Brexit, in its much debated and myriad versions. Reflections on the future of human rights must find a place within this picture of ‘constitutional unsettlement’. An assessment of rights in this context must then be located within an adequate conception of the UK’s contested constitutionalism; the context-transcending discourse of human rights thus plays out in a complex legal and political environment.