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HomeNewsAndrew Tettenborn: Brexit liberates us from this human rights nonsense

Andrew Tettenborn: Brexit liberates us from this human rights nonsense


Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand/A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name…

…is of course the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, yet another tireless appendage of the rights industry, brought to you by the EU you know and love. This fine body of men and women, headed by an Irish professor of human rights law, congenially employs 90 people in Vienna (though, to complete its collection for diversity purposes, it would still love to hear from applicants in Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, or Slovenia – is there anybody out there?). It costs you and me comfortably over €22 million a year and pays its lowest-paid dogsbody €2600 a month plus all the usual Euro-perks, including the kind of low tax that the EU is so keen to decry anywhere other than in its own couloirs of power.

Rather like a callow 18-year-old earnestly telling us over coffee and a spliff what we need to do in order to set the world to rights, this well-meaning organisation just loves running round at the cost of EU taxpayers telling governments how they could be nice at their own taxpayers’ expense (last month, for example, it told us that we really needed not only to welcome refugees but be particularly sensitive to the need to avoid offence in case some of them were LGBTI).

An opinion from it a couple of weeks ago, commissioned by the EU Council of Ministers and called “Improving access to remedy in the area of business and human rights at the EU level”, shows in some detail what we, the European public, are getting in exchange for our money. Like Harriet Harman (see here), the agency comes across as an outfit that is a bit ambivalent about business, but sure loves human rights. It seems to think, indeed, that the function of EU member states is to engage in a sort of curious legal gunboat diplomacy, purveying human rights at its bidding to all and sundry against international corporations wherever they may be. Read the report and you’ll quickly see the gist of it.

Companies must be made to ensure that their foreign subsidiaries and everyone in their worldwide supply chains abroad observe human rights – civil, political, economic, social, cultural, you name it. If they don’t – well, the UN and the G7 have spoken, and something must be done, of course at a European level. Company not actually in your European country at all? Don’t worry: if it has any connection with it, we need European measures to make sure it can be sued by benighted victims in far-off countries at the behest of lawyers here. What if no such victim can be persuaded to come forward to sue? No problem: we need arrangements at the Euro-level to allow suit to be brought by trade unions or pressure-groups (sorry: organisations set up in the public interest to protect and assist victims of business-related human rights abuse).

No proof that the company could have done anything about the problem? Don’t be naïve: it’s totally unfair to let it off the hook on a minor technicality like that. We need Europe-wide rules making it positively prove its innocence. What if the subsidiaries’ actions were entirely lawful where they happened? Psha! Can’t have these primitive third-worlders setting their own rules: apply European-style law instead, and make sure the courts here give plenty of damages. Claimants with no money to sue with? You guessed it first time: whether they come from Baluchistan or Burkina Faso, Niger or Nanjing, and even if they have no connection with Europe at all, it’s only right that the national (European) taxpayer be made to cough up with legal aid to make sure nobody is deprived of their rights.

A typical example, in other words, of what we have grown to expect from the EU elite so beloved of the likes of Gina Miller, Tim Farron and Keir Starmer. An ineffable sense of superiority; an impulse to shoulder the white man’s burden and patronise the population of the third world; unique knowledge of what is good for humanity – that goes without saying. And, even more obviously, an awareness of entitlement: an unshakeable conviction that their ideas of the good life be put into effect, though (it goes without saying) at someone else’s expense.

In this case the tab is to be picked up by the businesses and taxpayers whose profits and earnings go to pay these inflated functionaries’ not inconsiderable and very lightly-taxed salaries – and will unfortunately carry on doing so for at least the next couple of years or so.

(Image: Thijs ter Haar)

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Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as Ukip’s candidate in Bath.

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