This article was originally published in The Sunday Telegraph, 21/03/2021: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/01/20/biden-will-see-brexit-britain-reall…
There is now a unique opportunity for a Democratic President and a Conservative Prime Minister to show the world the way.
As we reflect on the Government’s foreign and security policy blueprint – the Integrated Review – it’s easy to see the world as a series of transactions, threats and power plays. But at its heart are two basic human instincts that we all share. First, that our country is our home, we should feel secure in it and defend its interests. Second, that we are part of an interconnected world and that we have a responsibility to both our planet and the people we share it with.
You need to feel in control of the first in order to feel confident embracing the second. Over the last five years we have repatriated control of our laws and borders, and have started rebalancing our economy so that more people can see a brighter future for the areas they call home. A United Kingdom that is more at ease and secure with itself is now well-placed to play the positive and proactive role in the world that the timely Integrated Review envisions.
Just look at how the number of people ranking immigration as a top concern has collapsed to levels not seen since the 1990s. It is fundamental to a home that you can decide who can visit or live in it – and yes, occasionally who has outstayed their welcome. That means being able to make a judgment on who can contribute the most, who has the most need of sanctuary, and to expect everyone to follow the house rules. Now people feel more certain of that basic control, Britain’s welcome mat is firmly at the door – as many Hong Kongers will soon attest.
The best way to help the world isn’t to leave a key under that mat for anyone to use. That’s exactly what the people smugglers, who try to sell people life-risking journeys across seas and borders, want. The Review reaffirms the truly moral approach – offer safe routes to those in most need of refuge, while giving very generously to programmes that support people in their own neighbourhoods.
As Home Secretary, I was said to be “under fire” for questioning whether the life-risking journey across the English Channel, from one perfectly safe country to another, was made out of a genuine need of asylum – and for committing to do everything possible to make sure that those who take that route will not be successful. There isn’t anything controversial or parochial about that, and I welcome Priti Patel’s determination to make this principle a reality.
Having a sense of control is also rooted in democratic consent and legitimacy of decision making. That’s why I was very encouraged to see the recent Supreme Court ruling on Shamima Begum. While many saw deprivation of citizenship as justifiable purely on values grounds, the decision in this case and others like it was made entirely on national security grounds. This ruling was unequivocal in defending the principle that when it comes to who can enter our country, the Home Secretary has the responsibility and mandate to make a judgment of national security.
Unfortunately, this sensible ruling stands in contrast to the changing role of the law in other areas, especially through interpretations of European Court of Human Rights law. In the Home Office I became increasingly concerned that our capacity to remove unlawful migrants, including suspected terrorists and convicted criminals, was being steadily chipped away. So I’m pleased to see this trend highlighted in an important and welcome new report today by Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power project. The report raises concerns about the Strasbourg Court’s intention to remake the law, inflating interpretations of perfectly legitimate ECHR rights in order to rewrite the migration laws that are a necessary part of controlling our borders.
Article 3 rightly forbids torture and inhumane treatment, and the UK holds to the highest standards on that. But recently the Supreme Court interpreted this article to mean it would even be tantamount to torture to remove an illegal immigrant whose life expectancy will be reduced without continued access to the NHS. This swept away past judgments, in which judges had taken a more realistic, rigorous position. Article 8 – the important right to respect for private and family life – has similarly been transformed into a means to secure entry into the country for some, and to frustrate the removal of others.
UK judges have sometimes resisted this judicial law-making but we cannot expect them to fix this problem alone. That is the responsibility of elected, accountable politicians who could consider domestic legal changes, and careful diplomacy with other European states. Global Britain will rely on international law more than ever, so more than most we should be at the forefront of promoting, abiding by, and at times reforming the rules-based international system. Winston Churchill was instrumental in proposing the ECHR, and British lawyers in drafting it. I’m hopeful it can continue to be a beacon for the standards that all civilised states should meet.
Sajid Javid MP is a former Home Secretary