By Paul Goodman
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Chris Grayling says in tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph that if David Cameron is returned with a majority in 2015, his Conservative Government will scrap Labour's Human Rights Act. He has told the paper:
“I cannot conceive of a situation where we could put forward
a serious reform without scrapping Labour’s Human Rights Act and starting
“We cannot go on with a situation where people who are a threat to our
national security, or who come to Britain and commit serious crimes, are
able to cite their human rights when they are clearly wholly unconcerned for
the human rights of others.
“We need a dramatically curtailed role for the European Court of Human
Rights in the UK."
The Mail on Sunday carries an even more dramatic story. Its splash claims that Britain is to pull out of the ECHR altogether. It reports that Theresa May is to announce the move soon. The story continues:
"Mrs May wants to withdraw from the convention before the next election in 2015, but Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a keen pro-European, has made it clear he will veto the initiative.
As a result, it is set to be a manifesto promise to be put into action if David Cameron wins an overall majority.
Together with the Prime Minister's vow to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, it will give the Tory manifesto a strong anti-European theme to combat the increasing appeal of UKIP."
- Grayling's intervention is on the record and, as the Telegraph points out, "goes further than any minister since the
Coalition came to power". May's apparent commitment is not on the record, and must thus be treated with caution, but the reference to a manifesto promise suggests that there is a basis for the story, and that it may not have come from the Home Office. Tomorrow, the lobby will be working to piece together how the stories came to be briefed, and which came first. (Grayling, of course, leads on the issue.)
- None the less, it's no exaggeration to say that if the Mail on Sunday story is correct, May and Grayling have launched the biggest assault by senior Conservative politicians on the ECHR in the party's history. (Has anyone consulted Dominic Grieve? The Attorney-General is a strong supporter of the ECHR, and has said that Britain would become "a pariah state" if it quit.) For as the Telegraph points out, Graylng's announcement could "mean Britain leaving the convention – which would provoke a major
constitutional row with Europe".
- Grayling told me when I asked him last year whether a Conservative Government would take Britain out of the ECHR that "I'm not ruling it in and not ruling it out." I don't know whether he agrees with the view that the Mail on Sunday attributes to the Home Secretary, but that he didn't rule out leaving can be read as suggestive – especially since he is one of the four horsemen of the party's centre-right in Cabinet, the other three being (most obviously) Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, and Philip Hammond.
- There is a question about timing. As the Mail on Sunday report reminds us, with its reference to "the increasing appeal of UKIP", it's no coincidence that both stories have emerged in the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election. I hope that Downing Street will take a strategic rather than a tactical view of the ECHR issue: that's to say, that an announcement that Britain will leave will be timed for maximum impact. David Cameron will be shy of frightening Nick Clegg's horses, but it is really one that he should make himself.
The Home Secretary will deliver the keynote address, setting out her vision of conservatism, at next weekend's ConservativeHome Victory 2015 Conference in London.