Theresa May’s Eight Human Rights Highs and Lows

By Adam Wagner, Founder and Chair 11 Jul 2016

Theresa May has today launched her Conservative Party leadership bid with a speech in Birmingham. It appears she is going to be confirmed as the single candidate, and therefore our next Prime Minister. It is important to know then, where does she stand on human rights?

1. Cat-gate, The Conservative Party Conference

Theresa earned herself a prime place on our Top 14 Worst Human Rights Myths when she wrongly claimed that a man could not be deported from Britain because of his pet cat at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011.

May came under fire by fellow party members for the claim, with Ken Clarke saying he was ‘surprised‘ by it and could not believe that it was true. This sparked a public debate, known as ‘cat-gate’, in which the BBC, human rights groups, and popular media debated the effect of the cat in the judgment. However, even those who had had argued May’s claim was ‘vindicated’ admitted that the Appeal judge in the case said the cat argument was ‘irrational’.

In her words:

We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.

This is why I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go.

Video reproduced under licence from BBC News – © 2011 BBC

2. May pledges her support for equal marriage

In May 2012, May came out strongly in support of the proposal to change the law so people of the same sex could marry, by recording a video for the Out4Marriage campaign. May was at that point the most senior politician to support the cross-party campaign. Her position contrasts with her leadership opponent, Andrea Leadsom, who was and remains a vocal opponent of the law change.

3. The Abu Qatada case

Muslim cleric Abu Qatada was deported to Jordan on 7 July 2013 after a twelve-year legal battle with the British government. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had also stepped in to ensure no evidence obtained by torture was used against Qatada in any future trial in Jordan. May blamed the ‘many layers of appeal rights’  for the delay in deportation, and used the opportunity to reaffirm her commitment to scrapping the Human Rights Act and leaving the ECHR.

However, the ECHR ruling has also been called a victory over the use of torture, which the UK has condemned as abhorrent for centuries, and as a demonstration of the UK’s leadership in progressive values and foreign policy. Fellow Conservative MP Dominic Grieve remarked that the reforms to the Jordanian justice system that came out of the case “were not only much needed but overwhelmingly welcomed by all right thinking persons“.

4. Scrapping the Human Rights Act Take 3

On The Andrew Marr Show, 6 October 2013, May said this about leaving the European Convention:

Theresa May: We want to get back in with a majority so that we can put into place the various changes that we are committed to, like the scrapping of the Human Rights Act

Andrew Marr: Would you put us out of the European Court of Human Rights?

Theresa May: What I think is absolutely right is that we need to look at the relationship we have with the European Court and the European Convention. That work is being led by my colleague Chris Grayling at the moment. And if it takes pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights to sort out our human rights laws, then that should be on the table.

5. May pledges to reform police stop and search

Police stop and search remains a controversial issue and has repeatedly been the subject of human rights judgments. In April 2014, May told Parliament that she had decided it was time to reform the powers, which she called an “enormous waste of police time” and “hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public”. She announced a revised code of practice which focussed on what was meant by “reasonable grounds for suspicion”. The reforms were not received well in all quarters.

6. Take Control – Conservative Party Conference

Mid-Syrian crisis, Theresa told Conservative Party what, in her view, happens when we don’t have control over our immigration. In short, our schools, hospitals, transport, housing and jobs all suffer. She also said we should fulfil our ‘moral duty to help people in desperate need‘. In May’s words:

We must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country. Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it is impossible to build a cohesive society.

7. Brexit Speech (AKA It’s not the EU we want to leave, it’s the ECHR)

On 26 April 2016, in May’s speech on the UK’s membership of the European Union, she suggested that the UK should stay in the EU but leave 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.

8. The U-Turn Candidacy Speech, 30 June 2016

May surprised many when she announced her candidacy on 30 June 2016 with her answer to a question on the European Court of Human Rights. She said:

I’ve set my position on the ECHR out very clearly but I also recognise that this is an issue that divides people, and the reality is there will be no Parliamentary majority for pulling out of the ECHR, so that is something I’m not going to pursue.

It is rumoured that the U-turn was a means of buying support from the so-called ‘Runnymede Tories’, and particularly respected former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC who backed her on the same day.

  • Read more about where the Tory leadership candidates stand on human rights here.
Featured Image via BBC Twitter feed .Theresa May Image 1. © Conservatives, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

About The Author

Adam Wagner Founder and Chair

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.