UK unveils plans to override ECHR after Rwanda spat

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The UK government Wednesday introduced legislation allowing it to override rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after a judge in Strasbourg blocked flights removing asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab denied the government intended to join Russia in abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights, which is overseen by the Strasbourg court.

But Raab, who is also justice secretary, said the new "Bill of Rights" would "restore a healthy dose of common sense" to Britain's judicial system.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed anew to implement the Rwanda plan, aimed at deterring immigrants from making illegal crossings of the Channel.

Rights groups and church leaders have criticised the policy as "shameful".

British courts earlier this month gave the go-ahead for the first removal flight to leave, but the ECHR stepped in at the last minute with an interim ruling to block its departure.

A UK judicial review of the plan's legality is due next month.

In the meantime, Raab told parliament the Bill of Rights would "strengthen our proud tradition of freedom" dating back to Magna Carta in 1215.

Magna Carta is considered the cornerstone of freedom, modern democracy, justice and the rule of law and has formed the basis of legal systems across the world -- and human rights conventions.

"We will strengthen the separation of powers in this country, affirming the supremacy of the Supreme Court, being explicit that the UK courts are under no obligation to follow the Strasbourg case law and indeed are free to diverge from it," said Raab.

"I'm proud of our world-beating judiciary, and what else is the point of a Supreme Court if it bows in subordination to a European one?"

But Britain "intends to remain a state party" to the convention overall, Raab added.

The rights pact is integral to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence over British rule.

"We would do nothing that jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

"What we are doing is ensuring that UK courts have primacy. The Supreme Court is a superior court and obviously it's parliament that sets UK law.”

- 'Stunning hypocrisy' -

At the weekend, Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested the ECHR decision was politically motivated, pushing a government narrative about European institutions overriding UK sovereignty.

The UK left the European Union last year after a 2016 Brexit vote but the Strasbourg court is not part of the bloc.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK's chief executive, said the bill would be "a giant leap backwards for the rights of ordinary people".

"This is not about tinkering with rights, it's about removing them," he said.

The government in London promised to tighten the country's borders after Brexit, and "take back control" of immigration.

But it is battling record numbers of people using small boats to cross the Channel from northern France.

Britain has repeatedly accused the French authorities of not doing enough to stop the crossings, a charge denied by Paris in a spat that has further strained relations after Brexit.

The new Bill of Rights would supersede Britain's 1998 Human Rights Act, which was enacted by the then Labour government of Tony Blair as part of the peace process for Northern Ireland.

Johnson's Conservative government has already clamped down on the rights of protesters, in a move denounced by opposition parties and activists.

Addressing Raab in parliament, Labour's justice spokeswoman Ellie Reeves said the legislation would hearten the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine.

"What stunning hypocrisy from this government to preach to others about the importance of defending rights abroad while snatching British people's rights away at home," she said.

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