By Matthew Barrett
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One of the two biggest political stories today, the summit to consider the next European budget, is opaque. We cannot know what is happening behind closed doors. However, we can know what Tory MPs have made of the other big political story today: the Government's attempt to deal with the European court's ruling that Britain must give at least some prisoners the vote. Here are some of the best contributions of Tory MPs to the debate in the media surrounding prison voting.
Nick Herbert, the former Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, wrote about leaving the jurisidiction of the European Court of Human Rights for ConservativeHome this morning. He also appeared on the Today programme this morning, and said:
"I think it’s doubtful that this will comply with what the European Court of Human Rights wants, and it seems as if the Government is effectively just playing for time. And ironically one of the three options that the Government is going to put down today, which is that we retain the blanket ban, is something that it’s unlikely ministers will be able to either to advocate or vote for because it’s a breach of the ministerial code to advocate breaking the law, even though the Prime Minister himself said that there was no way this Government was going to give prisoners the vote and that it make him feel physically sick to even contemplate the idea."
"…historically we have always decided that it is wrong that prisoners of any kind other than remand prisoners should be given the vote, and now we have a supranational court deciding on, I think, the spurious grounds that this is a human right that prisoners should be required to have the vote, seeking to override the views of our elected House of Commons. And I disagree that it’s a human right: I think it is a civic right, and I think it is entirely up to the House of Commons if people have committed such a serious offence."
Dominic Raab, a former Foreign Office and international criminal lawyer who worked for David Davis and Dominic Grieve in opposition, argued that Britain would not face any serious backlash for reaffirming its opposition to prisoner voting:
"I think what will happen is that the case will go back to the Strasbourg court, it will remain an unimplemented ruling, it will go to the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers, by the way, have been calling on Strasbourg to meddle less. There’s no fines, there’s no enforceable compensation orders, there’s no realistic chance of getting kicked out of the Council of Europe. I think that the worst we’ll get is a light diplomatic rap on the knuckles."
Bob Neill, the former Local Government Minister, who is also a former barrister, appeared on Radio 4's The World At One, arguing the European courts had not the right to overrule our sovereign Parliament:
"The treaty that we signed, the European Convention on Human Rights, recognises that the national parliament is sovereign. Parliament is the decider in these cases, not the European Court of Human Rights and so it should remain. … Those key protections – the right to liberty, freedom from arbitrary arrest – that's one thing. But telling individual countries how to run their voting systems goes beyond what most people in this country would regard as the proper purpose of human rights."