The Home Office began housing asylum seekers in disused army barracks around September last year and in that time their use has been a regular feature in the news. The Penally Camp in Tenby, West Wales, which was used for this purpose, was closed in March following an inspection that found it totally unsuitable and unsafe. Napier Barracks, an even larger site housing asylum seekers in Kent, remains open and is thought to house a population of around 250 individuals.
For those who concern themselves with such matters as human rights, there is perhaps no issue which weighs so heavily on the collective conscience than the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Occasionally, escalations in the violence make the headlines.
On 18 June 1984 – a literary coincidence, perhaps – thousands of striking miners gathered outside Orgreave coking plant. The miners sought to prevent lorries carrying coke from leaving the plant in the hope that it would allow them to pressurise the government into keeping the pits open, and thereby safeguard their jobs and communities. This was their protest.
Last week, MPs voted against a proposal to prevent the UK from entering into trade deals with countries that the High Court deems guilty of genocide. This proposal, introduced as an amendment to the government’s post-Brexit Trade Bill, received cross-party support in the House of Lords but was defeated in the House of Commons due to the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the government.
To say that 2020 has been an unusual year is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the package of government measures introduced in response, continue to dramatically impact our day-to-day lives. Even the most ordinary activities are subject to myriad restrictions and we find ourselves consciously weighing up the potential risks that even the simplest acts pose to others. In these respects, the pandemic has highlighted issues that form the crux of debates concerning human rights and civil liberties.
Another week, another U-turn. For anyone that follows British politics this will not come at a surprise. If anything, the U-turn has become a trademark of the current UK government and a defining feature of their first year in power. These U-turns have for the most part been welcomed, generally reversing a course of action that was clearly misjudged and did not align with the will of the British people, but the latest is rather more callous.
It was recently announced that a man had been charged with terrorism offences for a far-right attack at the offices of Duncan Lewis Solicitors in Harrow. The man had entered the firm in September brandishing a knife and threatened to kill a member of staff. The prosecution now allege that he was planning to take a solicitor hostage and fly both the Nazi flag and that of the US Confederacy, both of which were in his possession, from their office.
In the summer, it took a public campaign by Manchester United forward, Marcus Rashford, to force the government into providing free school meal vouchers to children from low-income households during the holidays. Commenting on the government’s U-turn, Boris Johnson, betraying not the slightest hint of shame, stated that “we have to understand the pressure that families are under right now”.
On 23 September 2020, Parliament voted in favour of the Overseas Operations Bill after its second reading. The Bill is part of the government’s plans to prevent ‘vexatious’ claims against military personnel, but Human Rights Watch have suggested that the Bill could prevent individuals being prosecuted for legitimate war crimes.
In 1517, on what became known as Evil May Day, an anti-immigration riot flared up in London. Resentment towards immigrants had been building for some time. Then, a fortnight prior to the riot, a broker named John Lincoln persuaded a preacher named Dr Bell (or Beal) to deliver a sermon in which he blamed immigrants for the abject poverty suffered by the local Englishmen, accusing the former of taking the latter’s jobs and depriving them of their livelihoods.