What has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?

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As one of the victorious parties that emerged from the Second World War in 1945, the United Kingdom has played a key role in drafting new binding laws for Europe’s common future to prevent the abuse of state powers witnessed during the war and before. This set of laws, overseen by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, would soon emerge as the ‚Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’. In our time, it is known (and further developed!) as The European Convention of Human Rights.

In June 2016, however, the electorate of the United Kingdom held a referendum on whether it should stay in the European Union at all. With a majority of 1,9% and an overall 37% of the populace, the decision was made to leave the Union. Despite grave concerns about its legitimacy, e.g. in relation to resource spending of the Vote Leave/BeLeave campaigns as well as the manipulative data usage including Facebook profiles of firms like SCL-Group/Cambridge Analytica a.o., the ‚Article 50’ of the Treaty of Lisbon to unilaterally leave the Union was triggered by the new Prime Minister Theresa May on March 29th, 2017. This development is now known in popular culture as ‚Brexit’, as in: Britain´s Exit from Europe. It is putting to end a 43 years long process of membership in the ongoing evolution of economic, academic, juridical, environmental and other aspects of European culture and lifestyle.

A fact less known is that Theresa May had already argued before that Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and create a ‚British Bill of Rights’ due to her experiences as Home Secretary starting in 2010. In reaction to her ongoing controversial statements on the issue, the Guardian published this satirical play by Dan Susman featuring actor Patrick Stewart, most widely known for his role as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise, and other important British actors and authors.

In their take on the classic scene from Monty Python’s movie ‚The Life of Brian’ (1979) where a group of plotting revolutionaries discuss the merits of life under Roman reign while mimicking the dynamics of contemporary ideological discourse, Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani expose the problems in the Conservative plan for a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

Just as the Roman Empire had nothing substantial to offer to Monty Python’s zealots - apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water system, and public health – Stewart’s prime minister can’t find anything positive about the European Convention on Human Rights. Apart from the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery and freedom from torture, that is. And of course, that it was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that helped to bring it to life in the first place.

  • Date of recording: Mon, 2016-04-25
  • Language(s) spoken:

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Prime Minister: Good morning

All: Good morning, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: Before we start, I want you to be absolutely clear about one thing: We are here to serve the British people, not the whims of some European imperialist state.

All: Hear, hear.

Prime Minister: We are a proud nation and no bureaucrat in Brussels can tell us what to do.

All: Hear, hear.

Prime Minister: We are a democracy, not some perverse genuflecting mouth puppet on a European finger; the idea of that makes me physically sick.

All: …

Prime Minister: They took our sovereignty, our dignity, the very essence of our Britishness, and what has the European Convention of Human Rights ever done for us in return?

All (but Francis): Hear, hear.

Francis: Oh, the right to a fair trial.

Prime Minister: What?

Francis: The right to a fair trial.

Prime Minister: Well, that´s true I suppose …

Susan: The right to privacy?

Prime Minister: Well yes, all right, I grant you fair trials and privacy are two things the European Convention of Human Rights has given us, but …

Susan: What about freedom from torture and degrading treatment?

Humphrey: Oh, eh, freedom of religion?

Fiona: Hmm, freedom of expression?

Michael: Freedom from discrimination!

Susan: Uh, how about freedom from slavery?

Prime Minister: Yes, of course, freedom from slavery goes without saying, but …

Francis: Protecting victims of domestic violence!

Prime Minister: Okay, okay, but apart from the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery and freedom from torture …

Susan: … and degrading treatment …

Prime Minister: … and degrading treatment, and protecting victims of domestic violence, but apart from these, what has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?

Susan: Peace in Northern Ireland?

Prime Minister: What?

Susan: Well, I mean the Good Friday Agreement depends on the European Convention of Human Rights. So without it, we’d have to make peace all over again - and what a palaver that would be?  … No, thank you …

Francis (gesticulating): No, ah, no …

Prime Minister: Now, look here, I’m not against human rights, of course not, but I say: We don’t need lectures from the frogs and the krauts. This is Britain, the land of Magna Carta, we invented human rights for God’s sake! We should be writing our own Bill of Rights and foisting it on the Europeans, ha ha ha. Let’s see how they like it then …

Francis: We have already done that, actually.

Prime Minister: What?

Francis: Well, after we won the war, British legal experts did draft a bill of Human Rights to help Europe sort itself out, you know, protect people from abuses of state power, that kind of thing.

Prime Minister: Really? You are sure?

Francis: Oh yeah.

Prime Minister: Uh, well, well that’s good. What’s it called?

Francis: The European Convention on Human Rights.

Prime Minister: Oh fuck off.



Michael -  Hywel John, Fiona - Susie Fugle, Humphrey -  Clive Mendus, George - Dan Curshen Ministers: Russell Wootton, Brendan Hooper, Sarika Lynch, David Cann, Prijay Taylor, Sophie Nasseemullah 

Written and directed by Dan Susman
, produced by Jess Gormley a.o.

With thanks to Abdullah Mutawi & Monty Python´s Flying Circus

Source file: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptfmAY6M6aA 

published: 25.04.2016; retrieved 10 2018

Published by The Guardian.