UK risks following Nazi example on human rights, UN expert claims

By Emily Gosden

François Crépeau provokes outrage after likening Conservatives' threat to quit European Convention on Human Rights to repression in 1930s Germany

British withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would risk following the example of Nazi Germany, a senior UN representative has claimed.

The Conservatives have threatened to withdraw from the ECHR if necessary to regain the power to extradite foreign criminals.

The move would be the most extreme option as part of plans to replace the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the convention in UK law, with a British Bill of Rights.

Professor François Crépeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said: “We have to remember the 1930s and how the rights of the Jews were restricted in Germany and then the rights of the whole German people.

"I mean, countries that go down the path of reducing the rights of one category of people usually don’t stop there.”

The Canadian academic, who last year attacked British attitudes to immigration as "b******t", told the Sunday Times: "If you reduce the human rights protection, you reduce it for everyone.

"If you have a government that says, 'well, there is too much human rights in this country, let’s reduce it’, at one point you might think it will reduce the rights of one category of persons but it has a tendency to spill over."

• How the Human Rights Act escaped the Tory axe

Prof Crépeau said he did not object to the Conservatives' manifesto pledge of introducing a British Bill of Rights so long as it resulted in "the same rights being protected in the same way” but that quitting the convention was a different matter.

The ECHR was introduced after the Second World War to try to prevent repeats of the kind of repression seen in Nazi Germany.

Prof Crépeau said: "We had discovered that majority, parliamentarian electoral democracies were actually capable of making errors, of violating the rights of huge categories of population and we did not want that any more."

If that was allowed to happen again "we are going back in history and we are going to pay for it at a collective level", he said. "We are going to suffer.”

Dominic Raab, the justice minister, called Prof Crépeau's intervention "ludicrous". He told the Sunday Times that "comparing proposals for a British Bill of Rights to Nazi persecution of the Jews is ignorant and offensive".

Separately on Sunday, it emerged that the Justice department was considering an English Bill of Rights rather than British one in order that Scotland could retain the Human Rights Act.

The Independent on Sunday reportedthat Michael Gove's department was considering the plan because of the difficult of scrapping the Human Rights Act in Scotland, which has said it would not give the legislative consent required for the change.

Other senior Conservatives have previously been highly critical of any suggestion of leaving the convention.

Ken Clarke last year described such a move as "unthinkable" and "absurd".

He said: "I personally think it's unthinkable we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights; it was drafted by British lawyers after the Second World War in order to protect the values for which we fought the War for.

“It's the way which we uphold the kind values we strive for, which are the rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all and the convention is the bedrock of that.”