02:07, April 25 352 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-25 02:07:03
Theresa May urged to clarify stance on European rights convention

Theresa May has been urged to commit to staying in the European convention on human rights in the next parliament, amid concerns she could try to get a mandate at the election for taking the UK out of the treaty after Brexit.

Some Conservatives on the liberal wing of the party are worried that May will be tempted to include leaving the convention in her election manifesto. Labour, the Scottish National party and the Lib Dems have called on her to clarify the party’s position.

Those raising concerns are reluctant to be named but one senior Conservative MP told the Guardian they were “increasingly nervous” that May might be so confident of victory that she would try to get a mandate for leaving the convention, even if just to keep her options open.

Three senior Tories – former attorney general Dominic Grieve, former culture secretary Maria Miller and former environment secretary Caroline Spelman – are backing a campaign to keep Britain inside the convention as the country leaves the EU.

May made no secret of her desire to leave the convention before the EU referendum, saying it “can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity [and] makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals.” She subsequently dropped the idea after becoming prime minister, acknowledging that she had no parliamentary majority for such a move.

The European convention on human rights is a postwar treaty setting out rights and freedoms that is completely separate to the EU but opposed by many Tory Eurosceptics on the grounds that it gives judges in Strasbourg the ability to rule on issues such as a right to privacy and family life.

David Cameron was infuriated by rulings that restricted the government’s inability to deport the Islamist cleric Abu Qatada for some years and against a ban on giving prisoners the vote. However, at the last election he put forward plans for a British bill of rights to restore some sovereignty over human rights while staying inside the European convention.

May will now have to decide whether to proceed with those plans after Brexit or go further and take the UK out of the treaty, as advocated last year by Nick Timothy, her co-chief of staff, who is heavily involved in drafting the Tory manifesto.

Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s home affairs spokesman and MP for Edinburgh South West, said: “We will be taking steps this week to get her [May] to try to clarify her position. We will certainly be putting a commitment in our manifesto to stay in the ECHR. My understanding is that they shelved it because of Brexit but the official position is that it will be all tied up after two years, so will they put it in?”

Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general and former director of Liberty, said: “Theresa May’s attitude to human rights veers from the ambivalent to the positively hostile. Ducking and diving over Brexit is bad enough but Churchill’s legacy of the European convention on human rights, and the rights it gives everyone in this country and beyond, is now more important than ever.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP and former cabinet minister, called on May to “come clean on whether she plans to weaken human rights protections for British citizens”.

David Davis, the Brexit secretary, said earlier this year that there were no plans to withdraw from the convention, but May’s outlook may have shifted since she called a general election.

James Dobson, a researcher at Bright Blue, a liberal conservative thinktank, said May should stick to her position held during her leadership race that she would not try to take the UK out of the treaty.

“The European convention on human rights is a vital document – written and championed by Conservative politicians after the atrocities of world war two – that promotes freedom and provides protection to people across Europe. These freedoms and protections include the rights of gay and lesbian people, the rights of the media against state censorship, more effective prosecution of domestic violence, and the rights of illegitimate children. Britain must remain a proud signatory of it.”