Whatever historians say of Cameron’s legacy, they must take account of his Irish policy


James Willby

What will be the legacy of ‘Cameronism’? Some would suggest that after only three years of government – and then at the head of a coalition – one should not deign to give a name to the philosophy of the current occupant of 10 Downing Street. I disagree. By the time of the next general election, David Cameron will have led the Conservative Party for over a decade. When the history of this period is written, I have no doubt that focus of such narratives will dwell on themes including the economy, British interventions aboard and the relationship with Europe.

For me though, there is an untold story of Cameronism, something that has quietly developed during his time in office and which, in my opinion, might be his greatest legacy. That is, the evolving nature of the British-Irish relationship.

From the apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, to the first visit by a British Monarch to Ireland since the founding of the Republic, Cameron’s term of office has witnessed events that have seen a growth in British-Irish relationship that few could have predicted. The decision to allow the Olympic torch to pass through Dublin was one such occurrence.  Rather than see the symbol of the Olympic spirit being forced into a jarring volte-face at the border, it continued its journey through the Emerald Isle towards Dublin. It was carried by athletes who would compete against our own and cheered by their home crowd. It was a wonderful example of the changing nature of British-Irish relations. You needed only to hear the enormous roar that greeted the Irish entry to the Olympic stadium to realise just how important a place this nation occupies in our hearts. But this relationship is not built of pure symbolism. There’s meat on its figurative bones.

In late 2010, Ireland’s banks were on the verge of collapse. Despite all the efforts of the Irish government to stave off the financial crisis, it was forced to seek a bailout from the EU and IMF. At that time, Britain had resolutely refused to be part of any EU-led bailout program for Greece or other embattled euro zone economies. And yet in the case of Ireland an exception was made. In the days after the announcement of the EU bailout, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a £7 billion bilateral loan to the Irish Republic. When questioned later that day on the terms of the loan, Osborne explained that the UK was not looking to make a quick buck: this was about aiding a friend in need. This matched my sentiments entirely. When asked by a young Greek politician why the UK had been so ready to help Ireland but not other euro zone nations in need, the answer came readily and without effort. It was, I told him, because they’re family.

Before this can be misinterpreted, I am keenly aware of the different paths our nations have chosen over the last forty years. On Europe, for example, the positions could not be more different. Britain is edging towards the European periphery whilst the Republic, as part of the euro zone, heads towards the further integration of a banking union. We will both continue to develop along these lines in what we hope are the best interests of our respective peoples. But to deny a spirit of kinship would be foolhardy. Indeed, there is barely a family in Britain that does not contain some Irish heritage.

And there is so much more we can do together. If the President of the United States can attend cabinet on a one-off visit, why not the Irish Taoiseach on a more regular basis? Why is there no unified energy policy with the only other country with which we share a land border? Where are the joint infrastructure projects to both boost investment into the UK and kick-start the Irish economy? In these and other areas more cooperation is vital, but let us not forget that progress in such areas would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

Cameronism may indeed end up giving us far less than it promised, but with regard to our relationship with Ireland it would be thoroughly churlish to ignore it’s achievements.

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Human Rights Act: Some questions for Mr Grayling and Mrs May

Craig Prescott 10.51am

Over the weekend, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, indicated that a Conservative majority government could repeal the Human Rights Act. Meanwhile, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has suggested withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself.

These are two very different things, and there is some muddled thinking involved here; but if both were to be pursued the policy could be called ‘Withdrawal and Repeal’.

As Mr Grayling has admitted himself, there needs to be a lot of work put in to the detail (to put it mildly). But as work towards possible 2015 manifesto pledges starts, here are some questions and issues that need to be considered.

  1. Why? It can’t be for political advantage. At the last election, 3.1 per cent of people voted for a political party who advocated ‘Withdraw and Repeal’, namely UKIP. By contrast, a combined 52 per cent of the electorate voted for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who did not. Whatever Mr Grayling and Mrs May may think, the electorate has shown time and time again disinterest in tinkering with constitutional matters. This does not look like a massive vote winner to me, in face of more pressing matters such as living standards and the broader economy.
  2. Replacement? A British Bill of Rights has been suggested, but to what end? The content of such a Bill of Rights is likely to be similar, if not identical, to the content with one or two additions (such as a right to a jury trial) to make such a document ‘British’. Take a look at the Articles incorporated into English Law by the HRA, the Right to Life, Prohibition of Torture, Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour and the Right to a Fair Trial and so on. Would you like to live in a country that does not provide in law for these  protections? As one of the finest judges of recent times, Lord Bingham stated in his book the Rule of Law, countries that do not make such protection in law tend not to the best of places to live. Belarus or North Korea? Another issue is how are the courts going to interpret any such legislation. Experience before the HRA suggests that on the whole, the courts will take notice of the ECHR, as they do of other international treaties and case-law for interpretative guidance.
  3. Leave it to Parliament? If ‘Withdrawal and Repeal’ is pursued, then the position will be more akin to the days before the HRA, but without a route of appeal to Strasbourg. This is a dangerous option, as it risks pitting the courts and Parliament in direct opposition. It is easy to think that human rights began with the HRA, but that neglects the strong - if imperfect - vein in the common law that protected people’s rights before the HRA. One could go back to the 17th century, but during the 1990s the courts began to recognise at common law certain rights as being of ‘fundamental’ status, such as access to justice. This fundamental status means that the courts require strong signals from Parliament before the courts hold that they can be interfered with. This is an open-ended category of right, creating a clear risk of an ongoing conflict between the courts and Parliament, potentially giving more scope to the courts, the exact opposite of what the Lord Chancellor, Mr Grayling, wants. Such an approach would be destined not to end well.

There are other issues to consider. The devolved institutions are required under the devolution framework to comply with the ECHR at all times. Any amendment of this requirement is likely to require their approval, which the Commission on the Bill of Rights indicates will not necessarily be forthcoming as approval of the ECHR is generally seems to be higher outside of England than within it. (This raises concerns that the Conservative Party becoming ever more an English, and not British Party). Further, the EU is engaged in an ongoing process to become a signatory to the ECHR, meaning that even if ‘Withdraw and Repeal’ is pursued, the ECHR will still be a highly relevant to UK law as long as Britain remains a member.

All of the above is not to say that the human rights architecture of the UK and Europe is perfect. Far from it. There are issues over the length of time it takes to hear cases, and the number of appeals possible in human rights litigation are both issues about which courts themselves have voiced concerns. A close look at the process shows that the vast majority of the time, it is these problems which lie at the root of problems with human rights. After all Abu Hamza still got deported to America. Is it really necessary to embark on such a hazardous journey, jeopardising a central tenet of the unwritten constitution that Parliament and the courts respond to each other in a dialogue and understanding, to solve a problem which for the vast majority of the electorate is simply not there?

Ultimately, the problem that Mr Grayling as Lord Chancellor (who has a duty to uphold the rule of law) needs to grapple with is that some human rights are innate in the liberal democracy to which he wishes to belong and to strengthen. Any human rights apparatus constructed does not create rights but merely recognises them.

Craig Prescott is a member of the School of Law at the University of Manchester. Follow him on Twitter @craigprescott

One Nation, One Great British Football Team?

Nik Darlington 6.00am

Since the SNP secured an unprecedented majority at Holyrood, commentators have been wondering what it could mean for the Union. In the aftermath, the Sunday Times (£) reported that the Tories want a snap poll, pointing to the fact that only one-in-three Scots would vote for independence. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Alex Salmond has threatened David Cameron with “guerilla war” and a long independence campaign.

Some words just belong together. Strawberries and cream. Dashing and gentleman. Political and scandal. Sunderland and Labour hold.

Or “canny” and “Alex Salmond”. If I had a (British) pound for every time that I read in the newspapers, see on the telly or hear on the wireless the words “canny” and “Alex Salmond” together then I would be, well, I’d be on a beach somewhere instead of writing this on a Sunday evening.

But it is true. Alex Salmond is canny, or else he would not so brilliantly have turned around an apparently unassailable Labour lead, nor won a majority in a parliament that was designed so that no party could win a majority. Therefore he also knows to resist any notion of an early referendum, which he would lose (interestingly, it isn’t in his power to call one, that belongs to Westminster). He hopes that by playing the long game, he can snipe from his perch in Charlotte Square at decisions made south in Downing Street. Some commentators therefore are putting a big red circle around 24th June 2014. The 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (another two words: wicked and irony?).

This weekend, I’ve had a different date in mind. 11th August 2012. The final of the Olympics football tournament at Wembley. Why? Because on Friday, the Times (£) told me that the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have conceded they can’t stop any players from signing up to a combined British team.

There used to be a time when any British football side would have been ten Englishmen plus Ryan Giggs a Welsh winger. Not only did England have a perennial left-side problem (Sinclair, McManaman, Barmby, or Murphy anyone?) but the Celtic nations had a perennial footballing problem.

Times are different now. Northern Ireland have climbed astonishingly quickly from a lowly FIFA ranking of 124th in March 2004 to 65th today (via a high of 32nd in 2007). Scotland’s ranking is steady, one place behind in 66th. At 114th, below Haiti and the Central African Republic, Wales’ ranking is appalling but they have some of the best young talent. As the Olympics is effectively a youth tournament, this matters, and don’t forget that England will likely just have competed in Euro 2012, making their top players unavailable.

Despite admitting they can’t stop them, the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish pen-pushers maintain that they don’t want their players participating. Only a few players have indicated they want to, such as Welsh winger Gareth Bale. But imagine it happening; imagine seeing Great Britain in the Olympics football final, an aged and inspirational David Beckham in union with Aaron Ramsey, Barry Bannan and Ryan McGivern. You remember what Euro ‘96 did for English football? Apart from the inane fluttery car flags, it gave the country pride. Alastair Campbell’s diaries talk about how Labour feared that John Major would call a snap election. And win.

Personally, I vote for One Nation, One Team.

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For what it is worth, here are my tips for a Great Britain XI (with a little help from my more clued-up friends). It largely ignores English players likely to be involved in Euro 2012 (e.g. Theo Walcott, Andy Caroll) but includes Joe Hart because you need a quality goalkeeper and, frankly, they can’t get that tired, can they? *Asterisks mean over-23.

4-5-1: Joe Hart* (Eng); Kyle Walker (Eng), Jonny Evans* (NI), Danny Wilson (Sco), Kieran Gibbs (Eng); David Beckham* (Eng, capt.), Aaron Ramsey (Wal), Jordan Henderson (Eng), Barry Bannan (Sco), Gareth Bale (Wal); Daniel Sturridge (Eng).

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