UK would be ‘pariah state’ if it walked away from ECHR – shadow cabinet member

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds has said leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would make the UK a “pariah state”, as party representatives clashed over immigration policy.

During a Channel 4 News debate titled The UK Decides: Immigration, Law And Order, representatives from the main seven parties debated the issue which has become one of the major battlegrounds of the General Election campaign.

The debate involved Conservative Home Office minister Chris Philp, Labour shadow cabinet minister Mr Thomas-Symonds, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper and Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer.

Party representatives during Channel 4 News’ General Election debate The UK Decides: Immigration, Law And Order, in Colchester
Party representatives during Channel 4 News’ General Election debate, The UK Decides: Immigration, Law And Order, in Colchester (Matt Alexander Media Assignments/PA)

Representing Reform UK was party chairman Richard Tice, while deputy party leader Keith Brown spoke for the SNP and Plaid Cymru party leader Rhun ap Iorwerth finalised the line-up.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has said he believes this is the “immigration election”, with two of the party’s five core pledges related to cutting numbers of migrants to the UK.

Mr Tice suggested that the UK should “pick people up” from small boats crossing the Channel and return them to France.

He said: “If you give people the right to work, then that will increase (small boat crossings).

“What we’ve got to do actually is we’ve got to pick people up out of the boats and take them back to France, that will stop the deaths. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That will stop the illegal trade.”

Richard Tice speaks to a crowd in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex
Richard Tice speaks to a crowd in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, on June 4 (James Manning/PA)

Mr Thomas-Symonds said Mr Tice’s suggestion was “complete fantasy”.

He said: “Firstly, what we need to do is to work internationally. The idea that you just do as Richard is saying is complete fantasy, to be frank.

“The way that the French authorities would react would be to damage our co-operation, not enhance it.

“But secondly, let me just say about the European Convention on Human Rights. I am proud of Britain, proud of our contribution to the world, proud of the contribution that cross-party Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill made to that European Convention on Human Rights.

“To walk away from it and to become an international pariah would, frankly, make us a country with far less influence on the world stage and I think we’re much better than that.”

Shadow Cabinet minister Nick Thomas-Symonds, of the Labour Party, during Channel 4 News’ General Election debate in Colchester
Shadow Cabinet minister Nick Thomas-Symonds, of the Labour Party, during Channel 4 News’ General Election debate in Colchester (Matt Alexander Media Assignments/PA)

Earlier in the debate Ms Denyer hit back against claims that migrants are a detriment to public services.

She said: “If you meet a migrant in the NHS, they’re more likely to be treating you than to be ahead of you in the queue.

“Now some politicians, and unfortunately the list of which politicians that is is getting longer, like to scapegoat migrants for the problems with underfunding public services when in reality the cause of that is decades of decisions to underfund those public services by political parties.

“They could choose to make other decisions. They could choose to make bold decisions about how you pay for public services and how you raise those funds and the Green Party is the only party in England being honest about that.”

Elsewhere in the debate, Mr Philp was met with groans from audience members and fellow panellists when he said: “Just to be clear about that, the NHS is receiving more money than it’s ever received in history.”

He added: “Priority number one is to encourage those UK citizens here already to get into the workforce and Mel Stride, the welfare secretary, has set out some plans to get that done.”

Policing minister Chris Philp speaks to the media
Chris Philp said the UK is ‘generous-hearted and open’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A refugee from Afghanistan told the party representatives asylum seekers had been “scapegoated and dehumanised”.

Asked if he felt ashamed about the lack of compassion in the conversation on migration, Mr Philp said: “Frankly, I’m not.”

He added: “This country, the United Kingdom, is generous-hearted and open.

“So when there was the crisis in Syria when Assad was murdering his own people, we set up the UK resettlement scheme, we directly and legally and safely resettled 25,000 people from Syria and from refugee camps on Syria’s borders into the UK.

“That was the largest legal resettlement scheme in relation to Syria. I’ve mentioned Ukraine already, 200,000 Ukrainians have been welcomed here to the UK, a similar number of people from Hong Kong, fleeing oppression by the communist regime.”

Responding to the same speaker, Mr Brown said the other Westminster parties “demonise” refugees “non-stop”.

He said: “I’m very proud that in Scotland we’ve done more than our fair share in terms of both Ukrainian asylum seekers and Syrian refugees as well.

“But I’m very interested in your own experience in Afghanistan, because I think what the UK did in Afghanistan was utterly appalling.

“The people they left behind had acted as intelligence support, and various other forms of support, and I say this as an ex-service person myself, was utterly atrocious, betraying those people that should have had safe flight back out of Afghanistan, very dangerous and to say, given the roles that they played.

“And I absolutely agree with your point that they demonise them non-stop. That’s why these problems come and why are they wanting to demonise them? Because there’s other stuff they should be doing – the big parties – they’re not doing, so they go after scapegoats and it’s easy to go after refugees and it’s wrong.”