12 June 2018

Justice Minister Phillip Lee, whose responsibilities include human rights policy, unexpectedly announced his resignation from the government over its approach to Brexit, and in particular concerns about respect for human rights an parliamentary sovereignty.

During the speech, the key note address at Bright Blue’s “Fighting Freedom” conference, Dr Lee outlined the importance of human rights in conservatism, and noted his sadness at how debates have been distorted, in particular stating:

“For me the recognition of our human rights is what conservatism is all about. We are the party of Sir Winston Churchill ... his vision contributed to the founding of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Convention of Human Rights. The last of course having been co-written by the Conservative lawyer and Minister David Maxwell Fyfe ... We have been at the heart of the development of protection of human rights ... So it upsets me when the Conservative party and human rights are rarely associated in the public consciousness except in negative ways, and some in our party fuel this judgement ... they are also the ones who would have us ditch the Human Rights Act. Those colleagues are wrong ... it is those who would turn back the tide [who are out of step with conservative philosophy].”

Sanchita Hosali, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, said:

“Dr Phillip Lee’s comments today about human rights are most welcome; ensuring equal respect for human dignity here at home is a defining hallmark of our democracy. Yet national politics tells a story of promises to tear up the Human Rights Act and provisions in the Brexit Bill that either exclude our protections outright or remove democratic accountability. Today as MPs turn their attention to the Bill, it is encouraging to see the now former Justice Minister’s commitment to human rights and our parliamentary process; these must underpin the approach to Brexit, if it is to deliver a better future for the UK.”

You can read BIHR’s evidence to parliamentarians on the Withdrawal Bill, including a joint submission from over 30 groups, here. Read Dr Lee’s resignation statement here, and watch a live video of the speech here.