Foreign secretary James Cleverly may be setting up a Tory civil war, by opposing leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Ending Britain’s membership of the human rights convention would certainly please the party’s hard-right. They see it as a way to shut off borders from migrants and refugees. But Cleverly warned leaving would align the UK with Russia and Belarus.
Speaking at a G7 summit in Japan, Cleverly told the Guardian:
European countries which are not part of the ECHR is a small club. I am not convinced it is a club we want to be part of.
However, he said he wasn’t necessarily on the side of human rights legislation as it stood:
That is not suggesting that the interpretation of human rights by judges is something I think has worked well. But it is my job as foreign secretary to get stuff changed.
Far be it from a Tory politician to be on the side of human rights.
Cleverly’s call for caution came as hard-right backbenchers forced PM Rishi Sunak to ignore an important ECHR ruling. It concerned refugees who arrive in the UK by boat and plans to deport them to Rwanda – a new proposed amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill. Sunak has reportedly caved into demands to ignore the ECHR on the matter.
Human rights organisation Liberty tweeted:
They also explained:
Leaving the ECHR would put everyone’s rights at risk. The ECHR is a person’s last resort for holding the state to account when it has abused their rights… Without the protection of the Human Rights Act or the ECHR, the UK Government would have the power to do whatever it wants to individuals’ rights with no threat of consequences.
Cleverly said many people did not understand the UK’s influence on the world stage when they said the country should leave the ECHR:
Sometimes when some people say we have got to leave the ECHR, what I hear is they think we don’t have the standing or the authority or influence to make changes or amendments that need to be made. I don’t buy into that. We are a serious player on the world stage.
Whilst being extremely debatable, Cleverley also misses the wide safety net the ECHR casts. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas captured the importance of the ECHR on many aspects of British law in a tweet:
Just as Lucas pointed out, leaving the ECHR would have a significant impact on the Good Friday Agreement. Director of the International Law Programme Rashmin Sagoo stated:
the ECHR is a fundamental part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is difficult to argue UK withdrawal would not breach the agreement.
On top of these implications for domestic and foreign safety there could also be retaliatory action. Legal experts have warned that if Britain does leave the ECHR the UK’s trade agreement with the European Union could be immediately terminated over small boat crossings. Steve Peers, a professor of EU and human rights law said:
If the UK left the ECHR or denounces all or part of it, it is fairly clear that the EU would suspend the police and security agreement.
Tory civil war?
Whilst Cleverley may well have realised that leaving the ECHR would leave the UK languishing with the likes of Russia and Belarus, it’s still debatable how much he actually cares about any of the above issues. Even so, his comments are likely to set up a civil war within the party. We can only hope they implode themselves before they drag the rest of us with them. Given recent evidence, however, this would be optimistic to say the least.
Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY 2.0