Watch out, Strasbourg:
‘Theresa May is to insist Britain must pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, to deport dangerous foreign criminals.
The Home Secretary is advising David Cameron that complete withdrawal, freeing Britain from Strasbourg judges’ edicts, is the only credible option, say Government sources.’
May has made critical comments about the ECHR before, of course. Here she is at last year’s Conservative Home conference:
“…as our last manifesto promised, the next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and it’s why we should also consider very carefully our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention it enforces…by 2015 we’ll need a plan for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights. And yes, I want to be clear that all options – including leaving the Convention altogether – should be on the table.”
Now she has gone further – and, if you combine this news with reports that Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, has publicly criticised the system, it seems the days of the Euro-Judges are numbered.
Personally, as someone who believes in parliamentary sovereignty and the English legal tradition, it’s not before time.
Why now? is still an interesting question, though.
It may well be that events – both legal and political – have convinced the Home Secretary on principle that complete withdrawal is the best option. The government continues to clash with Strasbourg over various issues, and everyone remembers that one of her most popular successes was being able to deport Abu Qatada. Both facts suggest that less meddling from the ECHR and more deportations of criminals and extremists are politically desirable ends for the Conservative Party.
A cynic would suggest there’s more to it than principle or party, though. How much of a coincidence is it that this news emerges a week after Boris announces his plan to re-enter parliament? The proposal is sure to prove popular with party members and voters – whose opinions matter not just for the General Election but also for the next leadership election, whenever it might come.
The problem with competitions to be the next leader of a party is that even when the current leader is not under direct threat, the crossfire between his would-be successors tends to pepper him nonetheless.
That risk can be seen here. It seems likely that a suspension or complete end to our membership of the ECHR, and/or scrapping the Human Rights Act, will be a centrepiece of Cameron’s conference speech this year. It’s a good idea to make a splash, but it will be diluted or undermined if others spend August trying to take credit for it.
It’s also worth remembering the potential trouble this might make in Cabinet. While the ECHR’s defenders, Grieve and Clarke, were reshuffled out, there are still toes that might get trodden on by the Home Secretary’s intervention. Our membership of the ECHR isn’t actually in her brief – it belongs to the Justice Secretary.
Ditching the ECHR is the right thing to do, but I hope it isn’t going to become caught up in internal politicking – it’s too important for that.