Party Manifestos Show Cross-party Commitment to Reforming Consular Assistance for British Nationals

Ahead of the UK General Election on 4th July, political parties have been releasing their manifestos, including commitments related to foreign affairs and human rights. REDRESS notes that four major parties – the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) – included commitments related to consular assistance in their proposed programmes for Government. 

The provision of consular assistance for British nationals abroad, particularly those at risk of human rights violations, can provide a vital safeguard against torture. However, in the UK at present, the decision as to whether to provide consular protection is entirely at the discretion of the UK government.  

This could change as a result of manifesto commitments to reform consular assistance made by some political parties. 

The Liberal Democrat party have committed to “enshrining in law a right for British nationals, including dual nationals, who have been politically detained or face other human rights violations abroad to access UK consular services,” while Labour have pledged to “strengthen support for British nationals abroad” by introducing “a new right to consular assistance in cases of human rights violations.” 

The SNP do not restrict such a right to cases of human rights violations, and commit to introducing “a right to consular assistance for British nationals including those who are stranded, imprisoned or who die overseas” in line with the recommendations of the 2019 report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deaths Abroad and Consular Services and Assistance. 

The Conservative party do not go as far as committing to a legal right to consular assistance, rather offering “a new model for complex detention cases, with new Family Advocates to help provide specialist assistance and give greater confidence to families.” 

In cases involving human rights violations, consular assistance – founded on freedom of communication and access between consular officials and a detained person – enables the UK Government to provide three key protections to its nationals abroad: preventing human rights abuses; providing redress for human rights abuses when they do occur; and ensuring procedural safeguards to prevent further violations. 

REDRESS has long argued that a right to consular protection for all British nationals should be enshrined in UK law. In 2024, we have published two documents on consular assistance. The first sets out Principles that could form the basis of a legal right to consular assistance. The second looks at Consular assistance in various foreign domestic legal frameworks, providing examples of how different countries provide protection. 

Photo: CC by Jessica Taylor