Not the Britain I fell in love with

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

This is not the Britain I fell in love with. I came to Britain from Vienna, where I was studying in my second year of a five year PHD course, to attend my Mum’s wedding to my English stepfather. At the time I had not planned to stay longer than a couple of weeks after the ceremony. I was enjoying my psychology studies and the beautiful city of Vienna.

My new father got me a job in one of his brother’s companies and I had a work and stay permit in my Austrian passport. My mother hoped that I would stay in England, as she liked to have her children closer than the 1,000 miles between Austria and the UK. That is why my step-uncle’s company got me a year’s stay permit to work in the City of London. 

I commuted daily to Moorgate near the London Wall and I found the City fascinating. Men in suits and bowler hats (this was 1970) and black umbrellas were just the way I had imagined Englishmen to look. In the West End, there were girls in super mini skirts and Carnaby Street was the centre of international fashion. For a 20-year-old this was the place to be.

A Kent experience

Of course, I didn’t see the slums in the East End of London or the North of England.  My stepfather took us for beautiful rides and walks in the Kent countryside, the amazing gardens and castles, to Bath where he was born, and to various seaside towns. I had lived in landlocked countries Hungary and Austria, and to know I was never more than an hour from the sea was amazing. 

To my mother’s delight, I fell in love with Britain and decided to break off my studies in Vienna to stay in the UK. I had also met somebody who I married a year later and the UK became my home.

Sevenoaks, Photo by Jordan Brierley on Unsplash

Land of hope? 

I wasn’t terribly interested in politics but was always concerned with racism and injustices. I had married a black man and not everybody we met hid their prejudices. But there was a vigil outside the South African embassy which I joined and there were wonderful music festivals with a very diverse crowd celebrating peace, unity and love.

Young people had hope for the future and big dreams. When the UK joined the EU, I was happy to exchange my Austrian passport for a British one and enjoy the freedom of movement across Europe. Little did I know that I would miss the Austrian passport when the UK left the EU.

Not my Britain 

I never thought that this, my adopted country, would become the country where the right to protest is at risk, our human rights protections are weakened by a new bill, the government is considering leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and people thought it was okay to detain and deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

According to the Human Rights Tracker:

“The United Kingdom’s Empowerment score of 5.4 out of 10 suggests that many people are not enjoying their civil liberties and political freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly and association, and democratic rights). 

“Compared with the small group of five high-income OECD countries we have civil and political rights data for, the United Kingdom is performing worse than average on empowerment rights.”

Latest signs of loss of human rights

As we are listening to the politicians vying to replace Johnson as our new PM, I don’t recognise the UK. This is not the Britain I fell in love with. 

The attacks by police on Steve Bray, the pro-EU protestor outside the Houses of Parliament, has generated support for him which shows that people do care about their right to protest. However, where was the mass outcry and street protests when the PCSC Bill was voted in by the Commons? Have the young of 2022 no interest in their rights – and don’t they care about losing their freedoms?

We have written about the British origins and importance of the ECHR. Leaving it will put us on the same level as Belarus and Russia. Is this the country Britons want? Why is there no uproar when Priti Patel and some PM contenders talk about the new Bill of Rights and leaving the ECHR? Do people still complacently think autocracy is not something that can happen in Britain?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) intervened and stopped the first Rwanda deportation plane from taking off. On social media and in some of the papers this was welcome but the usual  tabloids, owned by non-dom billionaires ranted about the European Court’s interference. And the next flight to Rwanda is still being planned. A new Bill is proposed in response to the ECtHR ruling..

Each Other a Human Rights Think says

“It was notable that the Bill, published shortly after the abandoned Rwanda flight, removes the requirement to comply with rule 39 rulings – the exact mechanism by which the ECtHR halted removals to Rwanda. 

“This fits neatly into a narrative of sovereignty and ‘taking back control’ from the European Union (EU), even though the EU is separate from both the ECtHR and the ECHR. Such language was deployed by the government during the Brexit referendum and the 2019 general election. It may also be noted by other states, such as Russia, which was recently subject to a rule 39 interim measure issued by the court to prevent the execution of two British national soldiers who had enlisted in the Ukrainian army.”

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Might a new PM have a stronger view on human rights?

Once the selection process (in which we have no say) decides who will become PM from September, there is no hope for a change for the better. In the meantime, Johnson can still bestow peerages on some of his donors, thus increasing the billionaire far right supporting peers in the House of Lords. Anybody who thought that getting rid of Johnson would stop more harm being done to the UK’s reputation and our own fates in this country will be disappointed. We are still on the downward slope towards possibly an even more right wing government autocracy. 

Rishi Sunak

According to ‘Each Other’, Rishi Sunak’s voting record gives little hope of change:

“In May 2022, for example, he voted against tackling short and long-term cost of living increases. Sunak has consistently voted for a reduction in spending on social security and has consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. On renters’ rights and an adequate standard of living, Sunak has consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life.”

Despite coming from an immigrant background, like Priti Patel,  Sunak has consistently voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules and a stricter asylum system. 

“It was revealed this week that Sunak had ‘signed off’ and funded the Rwanda Asylum Partnership Agreement and intends to continue plans to send people seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda.”

The opposition has not asked the question of how much this scheme costs the taxpayer and how the decision on which asylum seeker to deport is taken.

Penny Mordaunt

On Penny Mordaunt who is now Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, Each Other reports:

“Mordaunt has recently been questioned over her stance on trans rights. She has claimed that she didn’t advocate for trans rights as Minister for Women and Equalities and denied being a ‘woke warrior’.”

As a pro-Brexit politician, she also made a notable contribution to the Leave campaign by claiming that Turkey was about to join the EU and this would result in thousands more migrants to the UK.

She has however more recently co-authored a book “Greater Britain after the storm” (in 2021) which sets out a vision for greater social cohesion in the UK. It is as yet unclear whether she would seek to undermine the human rights framework of the UK by pulling out of the ECHR.

Liz Truss

Liz Truss has always followed the government’s lines. According to Each Other:

“Truss voted against retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental rights as part of UK law following Brexit. She remains a member of the government which proposes to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new Bill of Rights. Recently, Truss told fellow Tory MPs that she “is prepared to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights if reforms aimed at reducing the influence of judges in Strasbourg are not successful.”

The statement ignores the fact that there are British judges in the European Court of Human Rights. The rigid hostile environment policy and rhetoric seems to outweigh all our international obligations. If the Bill of Rights passes as it stands, deportations to Rwanda will be virtually impossible to stop. Some desperate people who fled prosecution and death to claim sanctuary in the UK feel that suicide is their only option

 What are we going to do about it? If you want to write to your MP to stop Rwanda deportations, you can use this template:

For further action, we could do worse than to follow Timothy Snyder’s advice in his book On Tyranny.