By Paul Goodman
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I am usually distrustful of startling briefings about policy changes to Sunday papers. They are often either meant to mislead or else reflect a minority view – a solitary Cabinet Minister, perhaps, flying a kite of his own. I write all this before reporting details carried halfway down the Sunday Telegraph's report of David Cameron's coming speech this week in Strasbourg, home of the European Court of Human Rights, about its failings. The story claims that the Prime Minister will propose a series of reforms, but:
"If they are not brought in,the “nuclear option” of pulling Britain out of the court — possibly on a temporary basis — is winning increasing support among senior Conservative ministers, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
“We cannot have another Abu Qatada,” a senior government source said. “You have to look at every option down the line, including some sort of temporary withdrawal from the court.
“There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for reform and we currently have it. We cannot have the current system of this panel of European judges being the final court of appeal on issues directly affecting our national security.”
Since the Liberal Democrats (not to mention Ken Clarke) wouldn't consider such a step for even a micro-moment, the paper claims that the move could be included in the next Conservative manifesto, and that "Britain’s decision to pull out of Unesco, the United Nations’ educational and cultural arm, in 1985 under Margaret Thatcher’s government, is increasingly being discussed in Whitehall as a blueprint for withdrawal". The Prime Minister will call in his speech for a “filtering system” for ECHR cases and changes to the way in which it appoints judges.
The Mail on Sunday has the same detail about withdrawal, citing "well-placed sources", but doesn't develop this angle in the way that the Telegraph does. Since the briefing evidently won't have come from the Justice Secretary, it looks as though Number 10 is responsible. Would Cameron really pull Britain out of the court? I am very dubious, but the detail that caught my eye is the one about UNESCO: someone, somewhere, has been doing some serious research. Even so, my question looks like one of those that John Rentoul would label a QTWTAIN.