Theresa May: Brexit could prove 'fatal to the Union with Scotland'

Written by Alan Robertson on 25 April 2016 in News

Home Secretary, who said she will vote to stay in the EU, calls for Britain to withdraw from European Convention on Human Rights

Theresa May has claimed a vote to leave the European Union would leave the UK “at risk of dismemberment” by triggering another independence referendum.

In her first major intervention in the EU referendum debate, the Home Secretary said opting out of the EU on June 23 could prove “fatal to the Union with Scotland”.

May, who is backing a remain vote, also called for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), claiming the treaty “can bind the hands of parliament”.


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However, civil liberties campaign group Liberty accused the Conservative cabinet minister of “mud-slinging and myth-spreading” over the role of the Convention.

Nicola Sturgeon yesterday reiterated Scotland would “almost certainly [be] in the situation of looking again at the question of independence” if the UK votes to leave the EU and Scotland opts to remain.

“If Brexit isn’t fatal to the European Union, we might find that it is fatal to the Union with Scotland,” said May in a speech delivered in London this morning. “The SNP have already said that in the event that Britain votes to leave but Scotland votes to remain in the EU, they will press for another Scottish independence referendum.

“And the opinion polls show consistently that the Scottish people are more likely to be in favour of EU membership than the people of England and Wales.

“If the people of Scotland are forced to choose between the United Kingdom and the European Union we do not know what the result would be. But only a little more than 18 months after the referendum that kept the United Kingdom together, I do not want to see the country I love at risk of dismemberment once more.

“I do not want the people of Scotland to think that English Eurosceptics put their dislike of Brussels ahead of our bond with Edinburgh and Glasgow. I do not want the European Union to cause the destruction of an older and much more precious Union, the Union between England and Scotland.”

The Home Secretary said the question voters face on June 23 is “about how we maximise Britain’s security, prosperity and influence in the world, and how we maximise our sovereignty”.

Membership of the EU makes the UK “more secure from crime and terrorism”, she added, citing the European Arrest Warrant and the Passenger Name Records Directive. However, she said that Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, claiming the case for remaining a signatory is “not clear”.

She said: “Despite what people sometimes think, it wasn’t the European Union that delayed for years the extradition of Abu Hamza, almost stopped the deportation of Abu Qatada, and tried to tell parliament that – however we voted – we could not deprive prisoners of the vote. It was the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.

“So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this. If we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its Court.”

The Home Secretary’s comments come seven months after the former Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve, used a speech in Edinburgh to warn that UK non-compliance with the ECHR “calls into question” the devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, hinting it could bolster calls for independence.

The Conservatives pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights in their 2015 election manifesto. The HRA incorporates the protections in the European Convention into UK law.

A Conservative Party paper published in October 2014 suggested judgments to emerge from the European Court of Human Rights would be treated as “advisory” instead of binding in UK law. The paper also raised the prospect of withdrawal from the Convention if the UK Parliament failed to secure the right to veto judgments from the Strasbourg court.

Liberty policy director Bella Sankey said: “Desperate times call for desperate speeches. Presumably reeling from yesterday’s bad headlines, the Home Secretary is today playing fast and loose with Churchill’s legacy to bolster her tough credentials.

“It was only a matter of time before the ECHR got dragged into the EU referendum debate. But the Convention doesn’t bind parliament and – despite Theresa May’s best efforts at mud-slinging and myth-spreading over the years – the case for remaining a signatory is unequivocal.

“Britain founded it, it is the most successful system for the enforcement of human rights in the history of the world, and every day it helps bring freedom, justice and the Rule of Law to 820 million people.”

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