Britain needs a bill of rights post-Brexit

Britain’s needs a post-Brexit Bill of Human Rights to replace European laws which currently safeguard our privacy, Professor Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones told Buxton International Festival.

Speaking about his new book, We Know All About You – The Story of Surveillance in Britain and America, Professor Jones said that losing our rights under the European Bill of Rights left Britons unprotected by the country’s unwritten constitution.

“We are not citizens, we are subjects of the Queen, and external arrangements like this to which we had signed up gave us something which was a constitutionally parallel guarantee to the rights to privacy,” said the Professor of American history emeritus and an honorary fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh.

“We need a constitutionally binding bill of human rights. That becomes much more important with Brexit.”

Professor Jones criticised the UK’s system of oversight of surveillance which uses retired judges to look at the rights and wrongs of what intelligence agencies had done in the past, whereas in America serving judges had a veto over future operations if they thought they were disproportionate or unconstitutional.

And he described the British system of MPs overseeing surveillance as a whitewash: “The Prime Minister appoints people to sit in judgement on decisions taken by the Prime Minister. Many people see that as a whitewash system.”

But Professor Jones argued that Government surveillance was not only vital to our security, but was much better than the alternative, which was surveillance by private organisations like agencies hired to draw up blacklists of union activists in industries such as construction.

And companies which trawled our internet history also came in for criticism: “You could argue that when advertisers get hold of your supermarket loyalty card and target you, that’s coming close to mind control.”

He also criticised politicians for labelling terrorist attacks as failures of intelligence rather than the result of decisions made politicians themselves: “We have some big questions to ask. Wouldn’t it be more courageous for politicians to face up to this and stop turning it on to the intelligence services?”