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Britain rejects EU proposal to evenly distribute 20k Mediterranean migrants

Britain has said it would reject the proposals outlined in the emergency EU measures for countries across the continent to take in a quota of refugees. The measure is being seen as a “declaration of war,” according to one senior EU official.

The plans, which will be revealed by Brussels later this week, could include proposals to distribute 20,000 refugees across all 28 EU member states.

The head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker is the main driving force behind the plans, which are being tabled in response to the high levels of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy in recent months.

One EU official told AFP: “Juncker wants a required quota of refugees, but this is practically seen as a declaration of war by certain member states.”

The draft of the proposals circulating Italian media this week states that the “EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states.”

Juncker’s plans are set to include the distribution of 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers throughout the EU. Exact numbers will be calculated according to each specific country’s population, GDP and levels of unemployment.

The plans have already sparked criticism from EU members, who feel the decision to accept refugees should be voluntary.

Home Secretary Theresa May said last week that “any decisions [on asylum] should be on a voluntary basis.”

“Many will have paid organized crime groups to get them through [the Mediterranean].”

“If we are really going to stop the people putting their lives in danger by crossing the Med, we need to stop them starting their journey in the first place,” she added.

The plans will need approval from all member states before they can be implemented. Currently Hungary, Britain, Slovakia and Ireland are opposing the measures.

“It is a mad idea for someone to let refugees into their own country instead of defending their borders and then to say I will redistribute them among you,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

“This is an unfair and indecent proposal. We therefore cannot support it,” he added.

The countries which currently take in the highest levels of asylum seekers - Germany, Sweden and Italy - are all in favor of the measures, which could be brought in by the end of May.

The statistics agency Eurostat reported a 44 percent increase in applications for asylum in 2014 to 626,000, with one in three registering in Germany.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said countries opposing the new measures were “selfish.”

Tories’ repeal of Human Rights Act will spark constitutional crisis, erode civil liberties – experts

Newly appointed Justice Secretary Michael Gove will push ahead with Conservative plans to repeal the Human Rights Act – a move experts warn could spark a constitutional crisis and blight Britain’s reputation on human rights worldwide.

Conservative Party sources, fresh from last week’s general election victory, told the Guardian the human rights reforms are imminent.

Civil liberty advocates warn the soon-to-be implemented measures would erode the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to protest and the right to freedom from torture and discrimination.

Although the Tories were keen to push ahead with the legal changes during their last term in government, the move was blocked by the party’s ex-coalition partner the Liberal Democrats. But as a majority government, the Conservatives are now poised to push ahead with the reforms.

Central to the Tories' election manifesto was a pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) and significantly curb the power of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Britain. The legal reforms are expected to surface in PM David Cameron’s plans for his first 100 days, which will be outlined in the Queen’s Speech on May 27.

Under these changes, the Conservatives would replace the HRA with a Tory-styled British Bill of Rights. Britain’s Supreme Court would no longer be answerable to the ECHR, with the Strasbourg-based court losing the power to order changes to UK law.

The plans were drawn up in 2014 by then-Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling. At the time, Grayling proposed Britain withdraw from the ECHR if the Council of Europe rejects the Conservatives’ British Bill of Rights.

Constitutional crisis
Considerable doubt exists among experts that the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog responsible for ensuring the Convention is upheld, will accept the Tories’ proposals. As a result, it is widely believed Britain will disengage from the European Convention on Human Rights and undermine Europe’s’ civil liberties framework in the process.

Britain’s withdrawal from the ECHR has been strongly opposed by former Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke and the UK’s ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve. Grieve has long condemned the proposal, warning its consequences would be devastating.

In December, he said the government’s threat to potentially abandon the Strasbourg court undermines international law and could fray the constitutional fabric that holds the United Kingdom together. Echoing grieve, analysts warn such a withdrawal would spark a constitutional crisis in the UK.

They suggest the move would be flatly rejected by Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and would mean the Conservative government has violated Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Dr Paul O’Connell, a Reader in Law at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), says the Conservatives’ proposed bill is shrouded with ambiguity.

“The notion of a British Bill of Rights is still quite vague, and more rhetoric than substance at present,” he told RT on Monday.

O’Connell, whose expertise lies in the field of human rights law, international law and the relationship between law and social change, said repealing the Human Rights Act would prove disruptive for Britain.

O’Connell rejected the notion such a move would breed a constitutional crisis in the UK, but argued the policy change would lead to a “recalibration of the culture of British law.”

“Withdrawing from the ECHR is difficult, it's hard to imagine that the new government will, in fact, seek to do this,” he said.

“They may, however, take a harder line with decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and may lobby other members of the Council of Europe to reform the Court.”

Eroded civil liberties
Mairi Clare Rodgers, media director at human rights group Liberty, argued the Conservatives’ plans to scrap the Human Rights Act hold serious implications.

The Act has proven vital in protecting journalists’ sources, safeguarding British soldiers, offering much needed-answers to grieving families, and holding power to account, she said.

Mairi also emphasized the HRA's role in defending those who suffer from domestic violence, rape victims and those who require specialist care.

Executive director at Reprieve, Clare Algar, said successive UK governments have undermined Britons’ ability to hold politicians to account.

“We hope that Mr Gove ignores the myths and spin that many others have used against human rights legislation, and considers instead the important central principles,” she told RT.

“This is something which helps defend the weak from the strong, and the individual citizen from the abuses of government.”

Amnesty International UK’s Allan Hogarth said the Human Rights Act has been misrepresented by a series of myths.

"Despite all the myths peddled about the Human Rights Act, this valuable piece of legislation has helped ensure that principles of fair trial, free speech and the right not to be tortured are properly respected in our country,” he told RT.

“Whatever the politicking in the coming weeks, the Human Rights Act should be protected and Michael Gove should stand firm over the Act's fundamental principles of justice and decency.”

Scotland results: SNP landslide to realign UK politics
The Irish Times

Result casts fresh doubts on future of union with Labour decimated.

The Scottish National Party is on course for a historic landslide after a spectacular surge for Nicola Sturgeon’s party all but wiped out Labour north of the border.

All but three of Scotland’s 59 seats were won by the SNP, whose commanding vote ousted Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and a number of prominent Liberal Democrats. The outcome will cast fresh doubts on the future of the union and bring about a realignment of British politics.

In Paisley and Renfrewshire, the SNP’s Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old politics student, comfortably defeated Douglas Alexander, Labour’s national campaign coordinator and shadow foreign secretary. Liberal Democrats Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy also lost to the nationalists.

Commanding double-digit victory margins were a feature of the SNP’s performance. Its candidate won by 10,000 votes in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, which was once seen as Labour’s safest seat in the country, and which had been held by former prime minister Gordon Brown. In Glasgow North East the swing to the SNP was a record 39 per cent.

“The Scottish Lion has roared this morning across the country,” said former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who was elected in the Gordon constituency. Ms Sturgeon, his successor, said the results were “historic” and that she was “immensely proud” of her party’s candidates.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said his party had been “overwhelmed” by a “surge of nationalism” in Scotland.

The result is by far the most successful in the SNP’s history. Its previous best was in 1974, when it won 11 seats. The party won six seats in 2010.

In Glasgow it had a clean sweep of all seven seats, defeating Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran in the process.

Across Scotland it claimed seats that had been in Labour or Lib Dem hands for decades. Kilmarnock and Loudoun, a Labour seat for the past 18 years, elected the SNP’s Alan Brown with 30,000 votes - almost double the number of votes that went to the shadow economic secretary Cathy Jamieson. Another scalp was the Lib Dem employment minister, who was defeated by the SNP candidate John Nicolson in East Dunbartonshire.

Turnout was high across Scotland, with several constituencies reporting turnouts in excess on 70 per cent and some at more than 80 per cent.

Speaking as she arrived at the Glasgow count centre before the scale of the Conservative had become clear, Ms Sturgeon said she remained “ready and willing” to work with Labour to lock prime minister David Cameron out of Downing Street.

“If that proves not to be the case because Labour failed to beat the Conservatives in England, then SNP MPs will go to Westminster to stand up for Scotland and to protect Scotland against a Tory government, but I still hope we can have a situation where we can lock David Cameron out of Downing Street,” she said.

The only seats which the SNP has not won so far are Orkney and Shetland, Edinburgh South and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, where Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, Labour’s Ian Murray and Conservative David Mundell held on.

After seeing his 10,000 vote majority in East Renfrewshire evaporate, Mr Murphy said he “heartily congratulated” his successor Kirsten Oswald but indicated he wanted to remain Scottish Labour leader.

But in a warning to Ms Sturgeon, he said: “This is of course an enormous moment for the SNP; no one can deny that. With victory on this scale, of course, also comes a responsibility. No one should ever confuse nationalism for their nation, no one should mistake your party for your country, because our nation, our streets, our flag won’t ever belong to one particular party or one particular cause.”
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