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UK Tory government is "obstructing" democracy and civil society

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"increasingly authoritarian": country downgraded in global index of freedoms

The UK has become a degraded democracy where civil rights are under attack and campaigners face curbs to their freedoms.

That’s the finding of the latest Civicus Monitor, which observes civil space and governments world wide.

It says that the UK Tory government has become “increasingly authoritarian” and has downgraded the country in its global index of freedom.

UK democracy and civic space is now listed as “obstructed”, placing the country on a par with Hungary, which is run by the Victor Orban regime and has been accused of infringing democratic freedoms.

Among the reasons for the downgrading, which has created a “hostile environment” for campaigners, is Tory legislation to curb the right to strike, the Public Order Bill and plans to clamp down on environmental protestors.

But Civicus is also concerned by what it sees as the UK government’s attempts to undermine human rights and its hostility towards charities and campaigners who actively oppose or speak out against its policies on climate change, anti-racism and refugee and asylum seeker rights.

In presenting its findings, Civicus sites the global Human Rights Watch, which in its 2023 World Report says the UK government, in 2022, repeatedly sought to damage and undermine human rights protections. 

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of HRW, said: “In 2022, we saw the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades.

“From your right to protest to your ability to hold institutions to account, fundamental and hard-won rights are being systematically dismantled.” 

The damning verdicts by Civicus and the HRW are backed up be a separate report by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK), which exists to encourage space for campaigning.

SMK’s annual campaigner survey, made up primarily of respondents from charities, found 94% of campaigners said there were threats to the freedom to organise, contribute to public debate, influence political decisions or protest. The same proportion agreed that “negative rhetoric” from politicians towards campaigners was threatening civic space.

These claims were made specifically in the context of the UK Westminster government.

SMK chief executive Sue Tibballs said: “The results of our survey, alongside the news Civicus has downgraded the UK as obstructed, should be a wake-up call. Our civic space is experiencing death by a thousand cuts and, at a time when ‘Global Britain’ is trying to carve out its new space in the world, we find ourselves in the same class as countries we have previously been a democratic example to.”