Thursday, February 17, 2011

David Cameron warned Britain could end up like Greece under the colonels

by Nicholas Watt


February 16, 2011

Britain takes great pride in its position as one of the few countries in Europe that has been governed continuously through a system of parliamentary democracy for centuries.

Any suggestion therefore that Britain does not abide by the principles of democracy and – worst of all – shows sign of dictatorship is bound to provoke an angry reaction.

So the president of the European Court of Human Rights found himself under fire tonight from Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans after suggesting that Britain will look like Greece under the rule of the colonels if it refuses to abide by the court's ruling on prisoners.

Jean-Paul Costa drew the parallel with the colonels' dictatorship of 1967-74 when he was asked by the BBC what would happen if Britain withdrew from the court or refused to abide by its ruling on prisoners. The comments by the Tunisian-born French president came a week after MPs voted overwhelmingly to uphold the blanket ban which prevents prisoners from voting. The court ruled last October that Britain had to lift the ban.

This is what Costa said when he was asked what would happen if Britain abandoned the European Convention on Human Rights or refused to abide by the European Court of Human Rights ruling on prisoners. Costa told Shirin Wheeler, the presenter of the BBC Parliament programme The Record Europe:

I would say that it would be a disaster. A disaster certainly for the Council of Europe and the court but also a disaster for the United Kingdom. I say it respectfully. The UK was one of the states founding the convention, one of the founding states of the Council.

[The] UK has always been a supporter for the court and many times model for the legal systems of other countries. Many systems took advantage through the case law of our court of the legal traditions of Britain.

Wheeler asked why it would be a disaster for Britain. Costa said:

For the image of Britain I will say a simple things and again I hope this will not be considered as not respectful. The only country which denounced the convention actually was Greece in 1967 at the time of dictatorship of the Colonels. Of course after seven years, when democracy was restored in Greece, Greece returned to the Council of Europe and the convention.

I cannot imagine – even if I can understand some irritation that [the] UK which is a great country I admire the UK – could be in the same situation as the Colonels in 1967.


Letter to the editor: "Court president did not liken UK to Greek dictatorship"