It’s a regular complaint of supporters of the EU and fans of the ECHR that eurosceptics blur the two together as one issue. It’s true that officially they are separate entities, but they are explicitly part of the same political movement, to the extent of flying the same flag. They also pose many of the same problems for Britain.
Each seeks primacy over UK law, each operates without recourse to the democratic consent of the British people and each operates in a continental system which often clashes with our way of doing things.
The ECHR draws much of its thinking from a legal tradition which simply does not fit with the concept of Habeas Corpus, for example, and this culture clash is the source of many ongoing problems with the Human Rights Act.
But those who want to preserve both or either normally insist that they should be viewed as totally separate issues, as distinct from each other as the EU is from the Eurovision Song Contest.
So it is surprising to see Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, lumping the two together in order to defend Britain’s membership of both. Speaking to an audience of lawyers at the Guildhall last night, he issued what many will see as a direct rebuke to the Home Secretary, declaring that “the economic, physical and ethical well-being of the United Kingdom” is dependent on remaining a member of these institutions.
It has long been known that Grieve is a fan of the ECHR. In 2005 he spoke in Parliament about his enthusiasm for incorporating it into British law.
What is more interesting is his decision to come out so strongly as one of the few remaining Conservative fans of EU integration, and the way in which he chose to do it.
Speaking out puts him at odds with a growing number of his colleagues, including Theresa May who has floated the threat of leaving the ECHR, so it’s no surprise that he waited until after the reshuffle before returning to the topic.
The approach and tone he chose is firmly grounded in the pessimism which the project’s defenders are retreating to en masse, trying to raise fears that without the protective hand of Mother Brussels we couldn’t possibly manage without strife and suffering.
I wrote on my own blog, before joining ConservativeHome, that this positive/negative divide is going to be the key distinction in an eventual In/Out referendum.
The In side will urge sheltering in the EU from the big, bad world, even at economic and democratic cost, and the Outists ought to make a positive case that we should be confident in our own abilities and go out to deal with the world on our own terms. It’s a reversal of the traditional stereotype that eurosceptics are the pessimistic “No” crowd, and offers a huge opportunity to euroscepticism to break new ground.
I doubt he intended to do so, but Grieve’s speech is further evidence of the shape and character of the debate to come.