The “Bill of Rights” and a blank sheet of paper.

4th October 2015

There appears to be further slippage in the Tory proposals for repealing the Human Rights Act.

Look at the following three quotes (with an emphasis added to each one):

“The scrapping of the human rights act, a pledge included in the Tory manifesto, is one of the measures to be included in the prime minister’s plans for the first 100 days, when the Queen’s speech is delivered on 27 May.”

Guardian, 10th May 2015

“We will bring forward proposals on a Bill of Rights this autumn.”

Dominic Raab, MoJ Minister, House of Commons, 8th September 2015

“Mr Gove is also grappling with how to fulfil the Conservative manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. The consultation will, he says, be out “in a few months’ time”.

Interview with Michael Gove, Lord Chancellor, The Times, 3rd October 2015

You will also see the Tories have gone from a Bill in the Queen’s Speech, to “proposals”, to a “consultation”.


So what is happening?

Why is repeal of the Human Rights Act proving to be the Godot of repeals?

“Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to repeal the Human Rights Act. He pulls at it with both hands, panting.   He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again.”


It is not difficult to imagine.


In a room, somewhere in Whitehall, there is a desk and on that desk is a piece of A4 paper, and a pencil.

The paper has as a title “British Bill of Rights”.  It is otherwise blank.

Every so often, a person comes in to sit at the desk.  The person may be a civil servant or a minister or a special adviser; indeed, they may take turns.  The person picks up the pencil and looks at the paper.

From time to time, the person goes to start writing a draft clause but hesitates, and sighs.  And the paper remains blank but for the title.

Once, when news came in from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as to their opposition to repeal of the Human Rights Act, there was a flash of inspiration: the word “British” was crossed out, leaving “Bill of Rights”.

But for that, the page still remains blank.

“Never mind,” thinks the latest person in that room, “this does not need to be done for another few months”. 


The constitutional and political reality is that, for the reasons set out in an earlier post, the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a “Bill of Rights” – British or otherwise – will be a virtual impossibility this parliament.

It also remains difficult to see how a new “Bill of Rights” will be any different from the current Act.

Repeal is an easy thing to promise, and to promise it will always get easy Tory cheers and easy approving copy in the tabloids; but it is hard in practice.

So unless the Tories get a move on, it looks like the Act (which celebrated its fifteenth birthday of coming into force this week) will still be there at the 2020 General Election, and no doubt a promise to repeal it will then be in the 2020 Tory Manifesto.

And, if the Tories win, then the process of coming up with a replacement will start, all over again.



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One thought on “The “Bill of Rights” and a blank sheet of paper.”

  1. Surely therefore the Tories will be happy to see us Scots leave the Union? That only leaves those pesky Norn Islanders.

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