The ECHR: the beginning of a long goodbye?

The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister intends to include withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in the Conservative Party’s 2020 General Election manifesto.

Mrs May has spoken in the past of her desire to leave the ECHR but appeared to concede during the Conservative leadership campaign that she could not pursue withdrawal in the present Parliament because of the small size of her majority. She is now understood to be backing plans to transpose the rights enshrined in the ECHR into UK law and then to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Court. According to the report, a “senior Government source” said:

“We would have been looking at having a huge row with Parliament to get through the Cameron plan and we might even have failed. A clean break is by far the best option and, if we put it in the manifesto, even those Tory MPs who are squeamish about the idea will have to get behind it. A manifesto pledge also means the Lords will have to let it through eventually. All the signs are that the Prime Minister is up for this.”

It is anyone’s guess how accurate the report is, but it is certainly consistent with the views she espoused as Home Secretary.

[Thanks to Adam Wagner for the alert.]

Update: The Daily Mail’s take on the report is rather different:

“Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act have been kicked into the long grass until after the next general election in more than three years’ time. The Government has abandoned David Cameron’s idea of a British Bill of Rights on the grounds that it would cause a parliamentary battle but still leave the UK in the grip of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "The ECHR: the beginning of a long goodbye?" in Law & Religion UK, 29 December 2016,

2 thoughts on “The ECHR: the beginning of a long goodbye?

  1. I was a fringe candidate in North Cornwall at the 2015 general election, the “Let every child have both parents” candidate. I sat next to my former MP (Dan Rogerson, Lib Dem) at a BBC hustings at a church in Bodmin. I already knew Dan.

    A question was asked about Europe. I replied that the UK was geologically part of Europe, with a history inextricably intertwined with that of Europe a whole.

    The UK, I said, would probably leave the EU eventually. But the UK’s proudest achievement after winning WW2, had possibly been to have pushed through the European Convention on Human Rights, from which I hoped the UK would never abrogate. For any such abrogation of the UK from it greatest achievement would be shameful, I said, with some passion. (Somebody who’d been listening clapped, I think.)

    Mr Rogerson whispered aside to me his approval of what he obviously saw as my wisdom, about exactly where to draw the line.

    I voted Leave in the referendum about the EU myself, and would gladly do so again. I hope the UK goes for a #SlowBrexit though, hanging onto EU membership long enough to push through reforms to the Article 50 mechanism for leaving the EU that other member states will need the UK to procure, to make it possible for member states with less clout than the UK to negotiate leaving terms before invoking Article 50, even if we might escape unscathed if we left as the present treaties say we must now, because we are strong.

    I will never likely vote for a candidate whose party policy is for the UK to renege on the principle of #Brexit. But I am even less likely ever to vote for a candidate whose party policy is to renege on the UK’s ECHR treaty obligations.

    I really don’t want to have to stand for Parliament, yet again. But for over a decade, every election has seemed to me like a Hobson’s Choice. If there isn’t a candidate in my constituency who gets it, that the UK must leave the EU ASAP, but must never leave the ECHR, then it may be my duty to lose yet another deposit.

    In short: Will people who (like me) are anti-EU, but pro-ECHR, have any main party candidates to vote for, in 2020?

    • As you will no doubt have gathered by now, I’m appalled at the prospect of leaving the ECHR, whatever human rights guarantees are written into a ‘British Bill of Rights’. Human rights sometimes have to be asserted against actions of the state: so without some kind of external guarantee of human rights standards, what is to prevent a Government with a large parliamentary majority from changing the law to legalise something that is contrary to international human rights standards?

      I voted ‘Remain’ in the EU referendum and was very disappointed (though not at all surprised) at the result – but that is now in the past and we’ve got to accept the result and move on: it’s no good crying over spilt milk. Withdrawal from the ECHR, however, is in my view massively more important than that. We can conclude trade agreements with individual states, but we can’t do meaningful ‘human rights deals’.

      And as Dominic Grieve put it in evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee at a hearing in October 2012 on The Work of the Attorney General:

      “In my time as Attorney General, I have done quite a lot of foreign travel, including outside Europe. Most of it has been connected with what I call rule-of-law agenda, trying to persuade countries that have poor rule-of-law records to put in place the necessary structures that human rights are respected, that the police don’t beat people up in police cells and that standards are raised.

      We are at the forefront of that. If I try to identify an area of benevolent soft power that the United Kingdom has to offer, it is one of our great prizes. Inevitably, if we were to be in default of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, while clearly there would be some people who could put forward logical arguments as to why we should be, equally I have absolutely no doubt that it would be seen by other countries as a move away from our strict adherence to human rights norms.”

      Which, presumably, is why he got the sack: “shooting the messenger” is the phrase that comes to mind.

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