By Paul Goodman
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The Times claims this morning that David Cameron is gearing up for a fight with Nick Clegg over the European Court of Human Rights –
"Britain would be able to ignore human rights rulings from Europe if MPs voted to override them, under proposals submitted to Downing Street. The idea is the most far-reaching being considered by a Government panel exploring reforms to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)…The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the UK would focus on recasting the court’s reach under the European Convention on Human Rights so that it played a subsidiary role to the Supreme Court of a nation state".
"Instead of working to put Britain back in charge of its own laws, the panel had already accepted the principle that European judges have primacy over the UK's Supreme Court, they claimed. After seven months of deliberation, the Commission on a Bill of Rights appears to have accepted that Parliament must take orders from Strasbourg judges over matters such as whether prisoners should have the vote."
These contrasting reports might have been written to symbolise the Government's divisions over the Human Rights Act, the ECHR, and human rights ideas in general. Will Cameron really square up to Clegg on the matter? And how far would Ken Clarke be prepared to go in any event? (He is overseeing the review by the panel that the Mail refers to with Clegg, remember.)
The votes-for-prisoners rumpus, in which the Government faced Commons defeat after David Davis and Jack Straw combined to insist on Parliament's rights, has been Cameron's most prominent challenge from his backbenches to date. Downing Street is well aware that change must be offered to his party, even if it is less sweeping than is claimed to be the case.
I am not convinced that the Prime Minister's willing to take on the Liberal Democrats over the matter, but very much hope very much that I'm wrong. It's interesting that the Times quotes Cameron's official spokesman as insisting that the Court will play a "subsidiary role". Tory MPs may want to cut out that quote and keep it in their back pockets.