14 December 2022

Raab insists Bill of Rights still has Prime Minister’s backing

14 December 2022

Dominic Raab has insisted the Bill of Rights still has Rishi Sunak’s backing despite delays in its progress.

The Justice Secretary was being grilled by the Joint Human Rights Committee on the controversial Bill, which he introduced during his first stint in office. It was then shelved by Liz Truss’s short-lived government and has not yet had its second reading in the House of Commons.

Critics have condemned his plans to shake up UK human rights laws as a “systematic gutting of key legal protections”.

The reality is both the (former) prime minister (Boris) Johnson and Prime Minister (Rishi) Sunak are committed to the Bill of Rights and I’m delighted to be taking it forward

Previously described as a replacement to the Human Rights Act, Mr Raab has said the Bill would add a “healthy dose of common sense” and curtail “abuses” of the system.

Asked by the committee on Wednesday whether he was embarrassed by the apparent lack of enthusiasm for the Bill from his colleagues, Mr Raab replied: “No, not at all. The reality is both the (former) prime minister (Boris) Johnson and Prime Minister (Rishi) Sunak are committed to the Bill of Rights and I’m delighted to be taking it forward.

“We’re ready to go, the Bill of Rights is ready to go and we look forward to bringing it forward for second reading,” he added, but said he had “not been given” a date for that yet.

He suggested his proposed legislation would help preventing tragedies in the Channel, telling the committee: “The measures we’re taking I think will help protect human rights.”

Legislation announced by the Prime Minister to tackle Channel crossings would be “self-standing”, but “human rights-enhancing” measures in the Bill of Rights would support it, Mr Raab said as he referred to measures “that stop this awful trade and people taking these appalling risks which can lead to tragedies like we’ve seen today”.

“We need to deter at every level, consistent with of course our international obligations, the draw, the attraction of coming here illegally, taking the kinds of risks we’ve seen and those criminal gangs with their business model that prey on them,” he added.

In light of the investigation into a number of allegations against Mr Raab, committee chairwoman Joanna Cherry asked the Justice Secretary: “If for any reason you had to demit office, who do you think would take this bill (the Bill of Rights) forward?”

Mr Raab replied: “I’m afraid they are a bunch of hypothetical questions which I’m not going to indulge you on.

“I’ve been clear on the claims made with regard to myself. I believe I’ve behaved professionally throughout. But, of course, I welcome, indeed, I called for an independent investigation so that I could deal with them transparently, not through the tittle tattle that’s anonymously leaked to the media.

“And I’m very confident that the Bill of Rights is a Government proposal, not my proposal, and we have collective responsibility on these things.”

Mr Raab did not rule out withdrawing the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights in the future, telling the committee: “The Government’s position is very clear – we rule nothing out. Nothing is off the table for the future…

“In the future, depending on the situation we find ourselves in, given the ebb and flow of the approach Strasbourg’s taken, I don’t think it’s responsible for the Government to rule things out.”

When asked about comments from former justice secretary Robert Buckland, who the committee heard described the Bills of Rights as a “cure without a problem”, Dominic Raab replied: “I respect Rob and he’s entitled to his opinion, but I disagree with him.”

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