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Should the UK leave the European Convention on Human Rights?

On 26th April this year, in a committee room of the House of Lords, we held a debate on the UK’s membership of the ECHR. 

Arguing the case to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was Paul Diamond. Paul is a barrister who has done some wonderful work defending Christians who are losing their freedoms. One of his cases was defending an employee of British Airways who was banned from wearing a Christian Cross. He took this case to the European Court of Human Rights and won. 

Speaking against leaving the ECHR was Francis Hoar. Francis is a barrister at Field Court Chambers. He's been involved with the Free Speech Union, electoral law, public law, election law, and lockdown cases. Paul spoke first. 

Paul Diamond: I've kept this talk fairly light to provoke a discussion. I'm going to give some personal views. I hope it doesn’t sound like a rant, but I also hope that I sound cogent and reasonable. I have had a long history in this matter. I don't know if many of you remember Baroness Young, but she asked me in 1998 to give her a legal opinion on why we should not implement the Human Rights Act in the first year of Tony Blair’s administration. 

She was one of the most formidable women I've ever met, and I remember thinking that when she was Head of the House of Lords, and we had Mrs.Thatcher as Head of Government, and we had our late Queen as Head of State, it was a totally formidable team. It was tough working with her, but a pleasure. But she asked me to come up with some examples. What could I come up with? How could anyone argue against human rights? What could happen? And I came up with the strongest examples I felt possible, which, of course, the government of the day ridiculed. 

But if I'd said to them, in those examples, that within seven years you would be at British Airways fighting for someone to wear a cross the size of a penny, while they permitted turbans, hijabs and bracelets, but the cross was banned; or I'd be doing cases where people could foster children if they didn't promote homosexuality, I’d have been laughed out of every chamber. 

So, what's at stake in this is democracy; the true meaning of the rule of law, and what the rule should be. Parliament makes the laws, and of course, the courts apply them. But those roles have been reversed under the human rights jurisdiction. So, it's very straightforward. If Parliament signs a treaty, incorporates it, and our Foreign Secretary jaunts around the world wanting to look good, signing international treaties, we've got a problem. 

We've got the European Convention incorporated, for example. We've got the Convention on the Status of Refugees incorporated. We've effectively got the Convention on the Rights of the Child, incorporated. Our courts will give effect to it. We've passed the law and, of course, they're going to defer to the treaty-determining body in the UN or in the European Court to determine the true meaning of a treaty that we voluntarily signed or have implemented. 

So, it's a problematic issue, and it does start in the House. Many years ago, I had a meeting with the Commissioner on Human Rights in Strasbourg. I wanted to discuss my pet themes, which were freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and it became very clear that the only human rights that were relevant were LGBT rights and feminism. But it's a bit old now, so I think feminism has gone. They're going to get rid of that, and I think women's rights are in great danger.

I actually believe we had more freedom in 1998 before the Human Rights Act. I've been doing cases for a long time on this. And you can see where we are with freedom of speech. Apparently, it's written into our law. How can it be wrong? We’ve got hate speech, offensive speech; we’ve got cancel culture, we've got Twitter, Facebook, and the great BBC. 

  So, I believe human rights law has taken a very dangerous turn and, in many ways, can be contrary to democratic government. If you take the example of abortion in the United States (and it’s a good example), the right to have an abortion was determined in 1973 to be a constitutional right. So, it didn't matter in America whether the President was against it, if Congress was against it, if 48 of the 50 states were against it. If five members of a body said it's a constitutional right, there's nothing you can do about it. And more and more rights are being constitutionalised or declared human rights. It doesn't matter what the government does. 

Of course, the Supreme Court recently reversed that in the Dobbs decision, where they're just simply saying it's not a constitutional right; it's a civil right, which the lawmaking bodies of the states can determine. And what is law? Law is just a piece of paper at the end of the day. Democracy is a societal norm. 

Human rights, treating people with respect, is a societal norm which existed in this country for many centuries under common law, prior to joining the Human Rights Act and prior to implementing it. And if it ever got to the stage where the army was deployed on the streets and we reached a totalitarian governmental stage, I can assure you having a few people wearing horse-hair wigs in a dark little building off the Strand is not going to make the government back off. 

It doesn't work like that. In many countries, including Stalin's 1936 constitution, are some of the most wonderful documents in the world that give people more rights than they could ever dream of. And so, I'm saying human rights are undefined. It gives powers to judges on political questions. They're unelected. They will decide societal disputes from transgenderism to same-sex marriage. We've got the creation of the philosopher judge, which is an extremely painful sight to see as they turn their dark legal texts into wonderful meanings. We've got ever-expanding rights.   

The words that we already have, like privacy, are expanded. We are moving into socio-economic rights, housing benefits, employment disputes. And now we're going to what some lawyers call third-generational rights, which is climate change. Cases are brought now in Strasbourg on climate change, issues of identity, and right to water. 

You'll be glad to know that Strasbourg has regularly ruled on war cases and conflict cases. And as we know with Russia, they are very concerned about what Strasbourg judges are thinking. And the Strasbourg courts are not ashamed if they call it a living instrument. The text is irrelevant. They are keen to expand it. They've adopted principles such as a common European consensus. So, if every country has got same-sex marriage, is it a human right to get same-sex marriage? Not of any principle. It's just a European consensus.   

We have probably one serious European state pushing back against this ever-expanding process, and that is Poland. And they are battered by the European courts, both European Union courts and human rights courts. And they can't appoint their own judges anymore. Any judge the Polish government appoints is arguably not an independent judge because they wanted more Catholic judges, and they wanted the Polish Parliament to appoint the judges rather like our Lord Chancellor or like the President of the United States. But they can't do so. 

So, we've got the Bill going through Parliament today on immigration, and we're told that we can carve out an exemption on this. I doubt that'll work. Leaving aside numerous rulings by the European Court, you've got to have a fair hearing; you've got to have an appeal. Well, if you're Greece and you have got half a million people going through the court system, and if you're the United Kingdom, you have got 150,000, it’s clear that we haven't got enough judges and it also costs a fortune.  

 Of course, there are going to be delays. And the issues are so complex under human rights law, like rights of children to education. And even if this bill goes through, I'm not convinced the European Court itself in Strasbourg will accept it. I think there's a good chance they could rule it illegal. In any event, I believe that our judges will take notice of their decisions, which they have to do while we remain, I believe, a signatory to an international treaty. That's their job.   

If any of you were appointed as a judge, you have to give effect to international treaties. It's not your job to decide what His Majesty's Government signs. You give effect to it. I think the only way to handle it is I think you'd have to do a lock-stock-and-barrel assault. I think partial workings will be struck down by our court or the European Court. You'd have to do a comprehensive approach of withdrawal. It'll be vitally important that you bring the British people with you, and they explain the merits of leaving because the media will kick-up, the EU will kick-up on our trade relations. If we were a member of the EU, they would do what they did to Poland, commence Commission actions against us that we were breaching the rule of law, and we'd have to have nerves of steel. 

As I always say, I'm waiting for the day when they arrest me for a violation of human rights, for exercising my human rights. That date is coming soon. 

I hope that I have kept a very short, light, entertaining introduction. Thank you. 


Francis Hoar: Thank you, Paul. Just as an opening, I would have thought that given there is a debate on this subject, our Members of Parliament might want to hear what the issues are. So, it is rather disappointing that that debate means that they think they shouldn't even attend. But my approach on this is pragmatic and realistic. And I want to start by asking what is the mischief that is being dealt with, being approached, and why we need to leave? 

Again, answering that question, we need to be clear about the distinction between, on the one hand, the Human Rights Act, and the way in which human rights have developed in this country, and, on the other, the membership of the Convention and what that entails. And these are not easy questions. Paul was absolutely right to say that there are severe problems in the way in which Strasbourg has marched towards a much more detailed version of the interpretation of human rights than was envisaged by the authors of the Convention. 

Just to put in context where we are now, we are not required as members of the Council of Europe, and as signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, to incorporate it into domestic law. There's an important distinction between domestic law and international obligations. International obligations are not really law. They are simply an obligation as a member state of a treaty to follow that as a matter of your membership. 

Unless Parliament says the treaty is part of law, it is not part of domestic law. Now, there is an exception which Paul intimated just now, which is that the courts do have an obligation to interpret law in accordance with our treaty obligations because it's assumed that Parliament will legislate in accordance with treaty obligations and that that interpretation should be imposed by the courts.  

But there are exceptions, and the obvious exception of Parliament being sovereign is where Parliament itself says through primary legislation that it intends not to be compliant with a particular international obligation. That's what's happening right now. So, in terms of whether or not the courts would apply an Act of Parliament saying that interim remedies, which is what this is about, imposed or suggested, as I would put it by the European Court of Human Rights, must not be followed, then they would have to follow that.  

Interestingly, it's worth reiterating what Martin Howe KC said on Saturday. I think it was in the Telegraph. In criticising the approach that the Strasbourg Court has taken, he said the reality is different. The European Convention on Human Rights does not confer any jurisdiction on the court to make interim rulings which are binding on states. Article 46 (1) expressly states that only the final judgements of the courts are binding. 

The court, in fact, acted under Rule 39. This is the Rwanda case, which is what the Home Secretary, I think, is addressing through the Act of Parliament, or Bill going through, which states that Rule 39 of its rules and procedures states that it may indicate not to order or injunct interim remedies that it thinks should be taken in a case as a matter of principle. Such rules govern the procedure by which a court exercises its jurisdiction and cannot expand its jurisdiction.    

Martin points to the fact that in 2005 the Strasbourg Court effectively said otherwise, but again it is open to our Parliament to say we are not accepting that, and that inevitably may result in difficult cases in Strasbourg. And the Strasbourg Court may well find, as it has done in the past with prisoner voting, that our law is not compatible with the Convention. 

But there are a number of decisions - prisoner voting is one of them - where the courts made a decision. Britain and other countries, for what it's worth, have gone a different way, and the consequence is not earth-shattering: it is effectively a stairway, certainly in those cases. Now, of course, one can envisage circumstances in which a country was so far against the fundamental rights that are within the Convention that they would be suspended or expelled. And that is exactly what happened with Russia last year. Incidentally, the day after, or possibly the same day, it indicated its intention to leave the Council of Europe, which is the body that holds the Convention - I'm going to turn to that shortly - and also revoke the Convention itself. 

So, there is a way in which we can be members of the Convention; members of the Council of Europe, which I submit and suggest is an important part of the framework, but also can have a much clearer steer on our rights with Parliament in the pilot seat and give to our courts final determinative effect. Now, in fact, as it happens, the courts do. Even under the Human Rights Act, the domestic courts do have the final say. The Human Rights Act requires them to take account of Strasbourg's jurisdiction but not to follow its rulings. 

Another point that Paul made, an important point, is generally about common law, fundamental rights and what common law is. Who would have thought in 1998 that he would be defending the right of a woman to wear a cross as part of a British Airways uniform? But the answer, of course, is that there are two points there. Firstly, it was the Strasbourg Court that eventually overturned the decisions of the courts in this country.

I think the second point, though, is wider and more fundamental because, effectively, what common law is is a progression. It's an organic concept. It is the judges applying the law to the culture and the mood of the times. Now, in 1998, no doubt it was very difficult to think that many of the right things that are called rights now would have happened. But then again, in 1998, it would have been very difficult to see to what extent social change would have developed, not just in Britain but across the world. 

Is it really the case that that is due to the Strasbourg court and that that is due to our incorporation of the Convention? Or is it, in fact, the response of judges to huge changes in social norms, which are also reflected, let's not forget, in Parliament and in legislation?

So many of the rights, in inverted commas, are actually Parliamentary. For example, civil unions back in the 2000s, same-sex marriage in the 2010s, the limitations on free speech to a certain extent, particularly now when we look at the insidious Online Harms Bill, and the way some proponents are framing it. We’re causing the problem. And then Paul said, rightly, is it conceivable that men in horse-hair wigs would do anything if the tanks were marching through London? And he rightly said, probably not, or if they did, the government would pay no attention.   

  But we know the answer to that because the courts gave another answer. If you want to just use an Act of Parliament that's never before been thought of being able to impose the most fundamental restrictions on liberty in this country in peacetime or perhaps ever, as a Court of Appeal judge put it, it can, even though nobody before 2000 would ever have thought it could do that. 

So, is it not right that actually a bigger problem is here in England and in a wider sense in the United Kingdom and not just in Strasbourg? 

Now, with that in mind, after a rather lengthy introduction, what are the benefits? Well, I accept Paul's point about the fact that the Strasbourg Court has an over-increasing view of human rights and has developed that jurisdiction. But I also point to the way in which our courts have done it. But I do suggest that there is a need for international humanitarian law and the norms of humanitarian law, and I do think there is a need for international institutions to do that. 

Who would have thought in 1989, with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, that we would be seeing genocide within years in the Balkans? Who would have thought in 2020 that we'd be seeing appalling human rights abuses and war crimes in Ukraine? 

We might have thought that Putin was capable of it, but the extent to which it has happened is alarming. Now, obviously, I suppose the answer is that Russia has just left. It's been expelled. But that it has been expelled matters. I don't put that as the first argument, I know that it is a rather trite argument for the Convention as ordered by Maxwell and Churchill, but it’s not a good enough argument for staying within it. 

But nevertheless, it is important that we are members of an important organisation. And there have been a number of times in the past decades where Strasbourg has actually applied important rights, which I think now we would recognise are important and whether or not we think Parliament should have sovereignty over it, I think the emphasis by the Strasbourg Court and the Strasbourg Court saying whether or not you want to implement them is important.   

For example, Article 2, the right to life. There's an enhanced requirement for review to assist families, which comes from Strasbourg jurisdiction. 

Article 3 refers to the freedom from torture. In the Republic of Ireland versus the United Kingdom case, Strasbourg declared that sleep deprivation on an appalling scale and waterboarding were unlawful and were certainly cruel human treatment, and are within Article 3.  

Article 5: liberty and security, and also the convection on democracy, have been important in ensuring fair trials in the Balkans. And then there are many other examples, one of which is, and I accept the point about freedom of speech, and I've been bringing, and so Paul has been bringing, a number of cases about freedom of speech on behalf of clients. 

There has been a very positive change in the last two years, starting with a case about gender-critical behaviour and rights to speech, and going on in the case about the Non-crimes Hate Bill, where the Court of Appeal found that that was unlawful, relying on Article 10. 

I accept, of course, that freedom of expression could rely on our common law rights to freedom of expression, but these are real examples. And the other benefit is the fact that we're members of the Council of Europe. Now, people might say so what? But I think that does matter, actually, and the first primary question is can we be members of the Council of Europe and not be members of the Convention? And the answer is probably not. 

The reality is that no members of the Council of Europe are not members of the Convention. To leave the Convention, you would need to denounce it. Would that mean that the Council of Europe would allow us to remain? It's possible, but perhaps unlikely. Having left the European Union, something I have to say I favoured, I didn’t want us to be cutting ourselves off from Europe. 

I didn't favour leaving the EU because I didn't think international co-operation was important. It's very important, and it's important particularly when we're not members of the EU. The institutions of the Council of Europe, which are inter-parliamentary and intergovernmental, are exactly the kind of things that Eurosceptics said should be the basis on which the European Union or the European Economic Community, as it was, should have been, but was never organised.   

They are sensible, and there are a number of co-operative organisations which our membership of the Council of Europe enables, and that enables our rights and our engagement in Europe more generally, while we are not members of the European Union. I think that's important. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, I suggest that we need to look at what the mischief is that leaving the Convention is suggesting will change, whether that is real mischief or whether in fact, the problem lies with cultural change and with our courts, not necessarily with Strasbourg. 

We need to remember that there are ways within which, perhaps by repealing the European Human Rights Act; perhaps by having a new Bill of Rights; perhaps by having other carved-out parliamentary exemptions, as Parliament is doing right now, there are other ways that we can deal with the problem with Strasbourg overreach which I accept is a problem. But we must also remember, firstly, the benefits the Convention has had over the past few decades for the wider community (with a small ‘c’) of Europe, but also the negative consequences of leaving, which go far beyond our duty that we have under the Human Rights Act or courts do have regard to those judgements. And so, I beg to oppose. 

Should pro-Palestine marches be allowed to continue?

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive.

I was interviewed on Talk TV a few days ago about this question and whether or not there should be new legislation to make it illegal for protesters to climb on war memorials. Click here to listen to what I had to say. 

Andrew Allison gives his thoughts on the latest BBC crisis

The BBC is in a mess once again. Huw Edwards has been revealed as the high profile presenter at the centre of the latest crisis affecting the corporation. Andrew gave his thoughts yesterday to Mike Graham on TalkTV. Please note this interview took place before Huw Edwards' wife revealed his name. 

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life

In this post, Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of The Freedom Association, looks back at Liz Truss's premiership, and highlights the challenges facing Rishi Sunak. 

Commenting on Harold Macmillan's 'night of the long knives', Jeremy Thorpe said,  "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life". I was reminded of that famous line after Liz Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng. She was the co-author of the mini-Budget he delivered just before the Labour Party Conference and therefore had ownership of it. Indeed, if a report in the Daily Mail is to be believed, the former Chancellor wanted to delay the abolition of the 45p tax rate, but Truss overruled him. Yet despite this, in an attempt to save her skin, she threw Kwarteng under a bus.

King Charles I signed the Earl of Strafford's death warrant in a bid to save himself. We know how that ended. In more recent times, Richard Nixon fired John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman in a bid to save his skin. That didn't work, either. And it didn’t work for Truss who was forced to resign less than a week later. The final two nails in her political coffin were the resignation of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and the chaotic scenes in the House of Commons during voting on an opposition motion on fracking. 

All authority had drained away from Truss. The winning manifesto she stood on in the Conservative Party leadership race, which lasted most of the summer, had been torn up. Many were asking what the point of Liz Truss was. Enough Conservative MPs answered the question. 

Kwarteng’s replacement, to everyone’s surprise, was Jeremy Hunt - the Sunak-supporting Remainer who praised China for its longer, harder lockdowns. He immediately started acting as His Majesty’s de facto Prime Minister. It was obvious that he was in charge of economic policy. The then First Lord of the Treasury had surrendered control to him. 

Hunt announced that Corporation Tax will increase by a third next year. The 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax has been indefinitely delayed. IR35 reforms for the self-employed have been scrapped. 

During her speech at the end of the Conservative Party Conference, Truss railed against the 'anti-growth coalition'. The main reason she has gone down as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British history is because she surrendered to that coalition. Her demise was humiliating and brutal in equal measure. 

Writing in the Daily Telegraph before Truss resigned, Matthew Lynn commented that "the dream of a low-tax, pro-enterprise Britain has now died for a generation. In its place, we face a suffocating consensus of constantly rising taxes imposed on a dwindling, shrivelled economic base."

He is correct. 

As the Conservative Party is drinking the final drop of whisky in the last chance saloon, MPs have no option but to get behind Rishi Sunak. Many Conservative MPs are polishing their CVs, knowing that they are likely to lose their seats at the next general election, but if the party doesn’t get its act together, it could be looking at losses of around 200 seats. That would put the party out of power for at least two terms. As the saying goes, “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” And the voters have (metaphorically) got many MPs by their balls. 

The King’s new Prime Minister has a bulging in tray. During the Conservative Party Conference I was asked if I could name any successes in the last 12 years of Conservative and Conservative-led government. Brexit was mentioned, but that’s not true. Most Conservative MPs campaigned against Brexit. David Cameron and George Osborne were the architects of ‘Project Fear.’ Brexit was achieved by the coming together of ordinary people - people like us in The Freedom Association. If the Conservative Party had had its way, we would still be members of the European Union. Although many notable Conservatives were very much on our side during and after the referendum, Brexit was not an achievement of a Conservative Government. 

Universal Credit was mentioned as a success. That’s debatable as it hasn’t been implemented in the way Iain Duncan-Smith envisaged. George Osborne made sure of that and Iain resigned because of it. 

To be honest, I can’t remember what the third success my interlocutor came up with. But that rather sums it up. There is hardly anything to show for all those years in Government - at least not on the credit side. On the debit side, the list is long. I will, though, focus on four huge problems facing Sunak: the cost of living, immigration, crime, and health. 

Getting through this coming winter is going to be a difficult task for many families. Although the Government has capped energy bills, they will still be much higher than they were last winter. Taxes are at a 70-year high. Is the Conservative Party still the party of low taxation? I would like to think so, but the evidence for the prosecution is damning. Sunak will not make the same mistakes as Truss, but increasing Corporation Tax is not going to make the UK’s economy more competitive. Taxing middle England until the pips squeak is not going to help us escape a long recession. I am willing to give him a break over the furlough scheme. I know that there were many abuses, but he didn’t really have any option but to present a generous scheme to compensate businesses and their employees after Prime Minister Johnson closed the economy. Inflation is high, and reducing it is a priority. But as I have already mentioned, to avoid a long recession we can’t have sky high taxes. “It’s the economy, stupid.” If voters are feeling the squeeze, the party of Government gets the blame, irrespective of what the views of the opposition parties are. 

We live on an island. That should be an advantage when it comes to limiting illegal immigration. The opposite appears to be true. I really hope that Rishi Sunak grasps the nettle on this issue. In his speech before he entered Number 10 for the first time as Prime Minister, he promised “control of our borders.” Boris Johnson didn’t appear interested, and neither was Truss. Those making the hazardous journey across the English Channel are housed in hotels at taxpayers’ expense. Very few are deported. Meanwhile, British families, who work hard and pay their taxes, are deciding whether to eat or heat their homes. 

According to Migration Watch, a record 1.1 million entry grants to live In the UK were granted in the year ending June 2022. One doesn’t have to be a genius to work out that this is unsustainable. Public services are already under huge pressure. Unless we get immigration (legal and illegal) under control, it’s going to get even worse. 

The metropolitan metrosexuals may dismiss this as a fringe issue, but there is real anger across the country that we are not getting immigration under control. If he gets this right, Sunak could be on to a winner, particularly in so-called “red wall” seats. 

If you are in the unfortunate position of having to call the police because your house has been burgled, the most likely outcome is that the criminals will not be apprehended. Only 6% of burglaries a year are solved by police across England and Wales - a pathetically low detection rate which almost gives carte blanche to criminals to keep calm and carry on. In the opening credits of the comedy series Porridge, Norman Stanley Fletcher was described “as an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner.” Today, ‘Fletch’ would never have been caught and would never have been sentenced to five years in Slade Prison. Although I have thankfully never been the victim of a burglary, to describe it as a “victimless crime” is insulting to those who may never feel safe in their homes again. 

The list goes on and on. If your car is stolen, don’t expect to get it back - at least not in one piece. If someone steals your mobile phone, the crime will never be investigated. If Sunak can get on top of this thorny problem, he will start to restore trust in the Conservative Party being the party of law and order. It most certainly cannot make that claim now. 

If you are critically ill, you will receive some of the best care in the world. But if you are in pain (and I have much experience of this), you will be put on a waiting list. An aunt of mine has been waiting for more than two years for a routine cataract operation. If you require a hip replacement, onto the waiting list you go. I am fortunate that my GP surgery is rather good at giving patients reasonably quick appointments. I know from talking to friends and listening to interviews on radio and television that many people across the country are not in as fortunate a position as me. Because the National Health Service became the National Covid Service, the backlogs in hospitals are never likely to be cleared. 

I know that there aren’t any quick fixes, but I have heard that Sunak wants to reform the NHS. Yes, we have heard it all before, and we remember the botched Lansley reforms, but unless our bureaucratic healthcare system is properly reformed, nothing is going to change. 

What we need now is a period of stability. I know that has become a hackneyed phrase, but there has been more turmoil this year than any of us thought possible. “Unprecedented” is an overused word, yet what we have witnessed this year (so far) has truly lived up to its meaning. 

I wish Rishi Sunak all the luck in the world. He is not my ‘cup of tea’ politically, but he doesn’t strike me as being a nasty man. Some will blame him for Boris Johnson’s resignation. My opinion is that Johnson was already on borrowed time before Sunak resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in July. Many committed Brexiteers had lost confidence in Johnson. But all of this is yesterday’s news and today’s fish and chip paper. I regarded Sunak as the continuity Treasury orthodoxy candidate during the summer’s leadership election campaign. I am not minded to change my opinion, but I really hope that I am wrong. The country is truly crying out of change. If he doesn’t deliver it, we will have Keir Starmer as Prime Minister and any meaningful Brexit benefits will either be reversed or will never happen at all. That would be a disaster and the thought of it should sober up those Conservative MPs sipping their last drop of whisky. 

Free Speech: how can we defend it? Join us in Birmingham on Monday 3rd October

On Monday 3rd October at 11.30 am, we are holding a fringe debate during the Conservative Party Conference about free speech. It is being held outside the secure zone, so a conference pass is not required to attend.

We are delighted that Nick Timothy, a Daily Telegraph columnist and a former chief of staff to Theresa May when she was Prime Minister, and Toby Young, founder and director of the Free Speech Union, will be joining our chairman, David Campbell Bannerman and me to discuss this important subject. 

Free Speech: how can we defend it?

Birmingham & Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BS

Monday 3rd October at 11.30 am 

Will you please help us promote this event by sharing this post with family, friends, and on social media? And if you can make it, we look forward to seeing you next Monday. 

We need to have a self-confident Great Britain on the world stage. We should be a shining beacon for freedom to the world

Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, addressed a meeting of The Freedom Association in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House, Westminster, on Tuesday 28th June 2022. The following is a transcript of his speech. We are grateful to Nile for giving up his time to address us. Please note: this speech was given just over a week before Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party. 


The Freedom Association, I think, is one of the great British institutions which has defended the cause of liberty and freedom for so many decades, and I remember, as a member of the Young Conservatives, when The Freedom Association was headed by Norris McWhirter. It was a great force for Thatcherism in those days.

David [Campbell Bannerman] mentioned that I am now over in the United States. I have been over there for the last 20 years in Washington DC, and I am now heading the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

I had the pleasure and privilege of working in Lady Thatcher’s private office, assisting her with Statecraft, her final book, which in many respects became the genesis of Brexit. It is my view that Brexit is a big part of Thatcherism. I will spend the opening couple of minutes talking about Brexit as I think it’s so fundamentally important for Britain's future, and it is a tremendous part of Lady Thatcher’s legacy.

She made clear in Statecraft that Britain would be infinitely better off outside of the European Union. There are those who still continue to spread, what can only be described as disinformation, that Lady Thatcher would have opposed Brexit, or that she would have not been in favour of all the measures to unshackle Britain from the European Union. The reality is, based upon what she wrote in Statecraft, but also from my own conversations with her over many years (she personally established the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in Washington DC and I had the opportunity to meet her on many occasions throughout the final years of her life), was that she was 100 per cent fervent in her belief that Britain could only be a free country outside of the European Union. This has also been confirmed by other advisers who worked for her, including Robin Harris and Sir Mark Worthington. It was also confirmed by Charles Moore who wrote the authorised biography of Lady Thatcher.

So, if anyone tells you that Lady Thatcher would not have supported Brexit, they are fundamentally spreading false information. Brexit is a huge part of advancing Thatcherism, and it’s my view that Brexit is fundamentally important for Britain’s future as a great nation. Brexit represents sovereignty and self-determination. It represents the ability of the British people to decide their own future and destiny, which is why so many Americans have supported Brexit. If you speak to any Republican member of Congress, they wholeheartedly support Brexit because it represents the same values of liberty and freedom which the American people cherish in their own hearts.

The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom played an important role in terms of shaping thinking with regard to Brexit, and it is certainly our view that the special relationship is infinitely stronger with Brexit in place.

Thatcherism, the subject of today’s discussion, has to encompass the importance of Brexit and what it means for Britain. Great Britain can and should be, without a doubt, a true world power. Great Britain may not be a superpower, such as the United States is, but Great Britain should operate as a world power with a tremendous history that we should all be proud of. I was struck by the remark just a few days ago of Suella Braverman, where she spoke about the pride in Britain’s past and its history. This is the same debate which is taking place in the United States right now, and there is so much for the British people to be proud of as a nation. Without Britain’s influence and role over the last several hundred years, the world would be a far more dangerous place. We wouldn't have the United States today as the leader of the free world; we would not have the many bastions of freedom and liberty which we see across the world today, without Britain’s influence. It was Margaret Thatcher’s view that the United Kingdom outside of the European Union could once again be a truly great global force for good on the world stage, and we are seeing that already on the Ukraine front where Britain is leading. In fact British leadership over Ukraine, I think, has been more powerful than American leadership. For all of the problems Boris Johnson is facing domestically, he has been a far more effective leader on the international stage than Joe Biden, who I think has been a monumental disaster as US President. More on that later!

Britain is leading at a time when the likes of Emmanual Macron continue to lick the boots of Valadimir Putin. British leadership really does matter, which is why Pres. Zelensky is so full of praise for Britain. Britain is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian barbarism and savagery, and that is something the British people should be proud of; something Ukrainians recognise wholeheartedly. In my view, British leadership in the Brexit era has eclipsed that of the United States over the Ukraine issue, but with regard to Brexit, it is vitally important that full British sovereignty is ensured which means scrapping the Northern Ireland protocol. This protocol is unworkable and is being used as a battering ram against the United Kingdom. It is being used against the United Kingdom as a punishment beating for leaving the European Union. You cannot have a situation where Northern Ireland is treated separately from the rest of the United Kingdom. You cannot divide one part of the UK from the other, which is what is happening right now. If we want to implement Brexit fully, the protocol has to go. At the same time, the UK has to extricate itself from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and you cannot have European judges deciding British law. The ECHR is not an EU institution, but a supranational entity that holds sway over a sovereign nation is unacceptable, and I am sure that if Lady Thatcher were alive today she would say that Britain would have to restore full sovereignty and self-determination. You cannot have Russian judges, for example, passing judgement over Great Britain. It is time for Brexit to be fully implemented at every level. That is, in my view, a further way in getting back to Thatcherism, as that was part of her vision.

Moving to the domestic political situation in the UK, I am struck to the degree to which there is a sense of doom and gloom in conservative circles here. It is extremely evident that many conservatives in the UK are asking: what is the purpose of the Conservative Party, where is the Conservative Party going, and what is the future of Conservatism In the United Kingdom? There is a sense of despondency and despair, even when the Conservatives have a majority of 80 seats.

Contrast this with what is happening in the United States right now. In Joe Biden, you have, without a doubt, the most left-wing US President in American history. Joe Biden has been a disaster for America. He heads an administration which is de-facto Socialist in many respects. It is an administration that is a monument to big government, high taxes, heavy spending. It is also a monument to wokeism and far-left culture. It is no wonder that the United States is sinking into recession. The stock market is collapsing, there are soaring crime rates with widespread looting in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and it is even spreading to Washington DC now. You have a culture of impunity which exists thanks to left-wing policies which are in place.

There are de-facto open borders with two million illegal immigrants which sought to enter the United States in the last year and half or so under Joe Biden. This is a superpower in crisis. It is in many respects a superpower in decline.

But what is happening on the conservative side of the United States right now? The Republicans are looking ahead to the mid-term elections in November. Opinion polls are projecting a big Republican majority in the House of Representatives - perhaps the biggest conservative victory in the United States in close to a hundred years. The conservative movement in the United States is going through an extraordinary renaissance. Joe Biden will likely be a lame-duck.

It is also looking extremely positive for conservatives looking ahead to the Presidential election in 2024. There is an extremely strong bench of conservative candidates competing. There is a real sense of positivity and life-energy in the conservative movement in the United States. US conservatives are using the Vote Leave slogan, ‘Take Back Control.’ They want to take back control of the United States from the far left. They look at Brexit and the Brexit victory as an example as what can be done in the United States. The Brexit win against all the odds was an incredible win for British conservatives against not only the left, but against the sitting British government.

Why are US conservatives doing so well at this time? It’s because they have a clear-cut agenda. They stand for tax cuts. They stand for reduced government spending. They want to rein-in the massive amount of government debt. They stand for free markets and capitalism. Every likely conservative contender for 2024 celebrates free markets, economic freedom, and capitalism. Voters know what they are getting. They also stand for energy independence, sovereignty and self-determination, secure borders, and law and order.

They have also gone to war against the woke left. If you look at Gov. Youngkin’s victory in Virginia last November, he fought a campaign based on defeating the left on critical race theory, which is a highly divisive and racist doctrine that Americans overwhelmingly reject. He fought a campaign based on taking left-wing indoctrination out of American schools - and he won in the swing state of Virginia where the Democrats had been doing very well over the last decade. That is an example of conservatives having crystal-clear thinking on key issues, and American voters, of all races, are responding to that.

Contrast that with the situation in the United Kingdom. Looking at the country from across the Atlantic, and particularly looking at the Conservative Party today and what it is projecting, there is a lot of mixed messaging. The party is confused. It’s as if you are buying a high-definition ultra-HD television. You bring it home and you expect to see an ultra-HD picture, but instead what you see is a fuzzy picture full of static. You want a refund. That’s what has happened in the recent by-elections. Conservative voters have stayed at home because they don’t know what they are voting for and they don’t like what they see. In the US, with conservatives offering a crystal-clear picture, voters know what they are getting. In the UK, it is confusing. The message on tax cuts keeps changing from one day to the next. The message today from the Government is that they are not going to be moving down the course of tax cuts until inflation is sorted out. It could be years before inflation is brought back under control. These kind of mixed signals confuse voters. It is the exact opposite of how Lady Thatcher thought. Lady Thatcher’s view was that you have to stand on your principles, conviction and ideals like a rock. You can’t waver and blow with the wind. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t interested in the latest focus group. She wasn’t interested in opinion polls. She often said that nothing could be gained by trying to seek consensus. You have to lead. If you are going to take on the mantle of the Socialist left by increasing Government spending and increasing taxes, then voters are going to go for the real thing. They are not going to go for a Conservative Party that adopts some of the language of the left. They want the real deal. That was the point that Margaret Thatcher always made. Nothing good would ever come from inheriting the mantle of the Labour Party or the Liberals. It would only lead to defeat, and she is absolutely right on that.

The Conservatives today have to choose on whether they are going to offer voters a very clear conservative agenda, which has to be based upon reining-in Government expenditure, because the situation right now is out of control. Increasing Government spending is only going to undermine the economy in the long-term. It is going to saddle future generations with mountains of debt. It is going to make Britain less competitive on the world stage. If you are going to raise taxes, you are going to kill jobs. If you kill the entrepreneurial spirit and make it less encouraging for private individuals and businesses to set up companies and employ people, that’s a job killer, and I don’t see how in any way that helps the conservative cause. If you are going to have a green agenda which costs tens of billions of pounds and it’s going to act as a disincentive for people to invest in the UK, this is hugely counter-productive.

The whole net-zero agenda is wholeheartedly rejected by US conservatives. It is viewed as a big government intervention. In my view, it just cripples British competitiveness and is going to put a lot of people out of work. Big Government solutions are not the answer.

There is so much for this Government to do in a positive sense. Boris Johnson is on the ropes at the moment. His future survival depends upon returning wholeheartedly to Thatcherite Conservative principles, otherwise he is not going to survive. It’s as simple as that. And I hope that he will be going down that path.

He has done extremely well on the Ukraine front. It is also very encouraging to see the Conservative Party taking on the nefarious woke left agenda, because it is so poisonous and incredibly dangerous. In the US this is a huge battleground. A few months ago I hosted Oliver Dowden who gave a speech on this issue of defeating cancel culture. He gave, in my view, a very robust and courageous speech talking about how British Conservatives need to stand up for cultural values because the left will try to tear down this great nation at every opportunity, and unless you are going to fight them, they are going to succeed. They have a huge stranglehold over universities, schools, and institutions in the United Kingdom. It is so bad now that when one opens an email from the civil service there will be a description of the pronouns one should use. This kind of rubbish needs to be thrown out of the window by a Conservative Government. Why are civil servants advancing this language imported from the United States by left-wing extremists? This should have no place in Government here. And I know that there are many ministers who have vowed to fight this including Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary.

A Conservative Government has to stand up for conservative values and principles, otherwise it cannot call itself conservative. Margaret Thatcher’s advice, if she had been with us today, would have been that a Conservative Government should be proud of conservative principles; proud of conservative policies and ideas, and to advance those ideas. Do not be afraid to stand up for a conservative vision. Do not give in to the siren calls from the left. This is about real leadership at a time when Britain in the Brexit era should be the global leader for free markets and free trade; for getting big government off the backs of individuals and companies. It should be the most deregulated country in the world. It should be the country that attracts the most investment. It should be the leader for economic freedom and liberty.

This is such an exciting time for the UK, but we are beset by this tremendous sense of despondency right now. We can get rid of that by advancing a true conservative agenda.

Margaret Thatcher won three general elections in a row for a reason. Voters knew what they were getting. They voted for a politician who believed in real ideas and principles, and she was willing to stand up for those ideas and debate them. She won the war of ideas. We need to have a self-confident Great Britain on the world stage. We should be a shining beacon for freedom to the world.

The Freedom Association condemns the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine

Responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association, and Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of The Freedom Association, have issued the following statement: 

“The Freedom Association, along with with the rest of the free world, condemns the unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and support the Government in its robust response to this aggression. This is a major assault on liberty, freedom, and democracy. It’s implications will not stop with Ukraine. It encourages other totalitarian regimes to act in similar ways. Putin’s actions must not go unpunished.”



To arrange broadcast interviews, please contact:

Andrew Allison
Chief Executive 
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07803 741104 


The Freedom Association (TFA) is a non-partisan, centre-right, classically liberal pressure group. We believe in the freedom of the individual in all aspects of life to as great an extent as possible. As such, we seek to challenge all erosion of civil liberties and campaign in support of individual liberty, freedom of expression, and free markets. 

To find out more about The Freedom Association, visit our website: 

WATCH Nigel Farage speak about the greatest threats to freedom today

Delivering the fourth annual Jillian Becker Lecture on Friday 4th February 2022, Nigel Farage delivered a speech about the greatest threats to freedom today.

After successfully leading UKIP and the Brexit Party, Nigel now has his own show on GB News. A great defender of freedom, he continues to be one of the most influential political voices in the UK. The lecture was held at the Victory Services Club in London.

If you are in a position to do so, please consider becoming a member of The Freedom Association and/or making a donation to The Freedom Association to help us in our work promoting our important ten core principles of a free society which are constantly under threat. It also enables us to hold similar events, not just in London, but across the whole of the UK. 


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Click on the image below to watch it. 

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