One of the biggest pledges of the Conservative party conference wasn’t actually made at the Tory conference. It’s being set out today by Chris Grayling and is the Tory plan to strip European judges of their powers over British laws.
The Conservatives will scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will leave the European Court of Human Rights as an advisory body to the UK. It will continue to use the same basic text of the European convention on human rights, as Grayling says ‘it’s never that document and those principles that is the problem’, but alongside it will be a number of caveats designed to restrict the way human rights laws can be used, for example on prisoner voting. MPs can add caveats if the court makes a ruling that contradicts the will of parliament. If the government loses a case in Strasbourg, it will consider the ruling, but will not be bound to obey it.
If the other members of the Council of Europe do not accept these measures before the Bill is passed, the Tories plan to leave the convention, but if they do, then they shall carry on as previously.
This is a sufficiently big announcement to need its own space outside the crowded conference schedule, and it sets the Conservatives apart from the other two main parties. The Lib Dems would cause trouble over these measures in any coalition negotiations, while the Labour party will say this means the Tories don’t care about human rights.
It has received a favourable write-up from most quarters, and will please Tory MPs and members no end – unless your name is Dominic Grieve or Ken Clarke. But it will be interesting to see whether it leads to eurosceptic backbenchers pushing for more detail on David Cameron’s renegotiating position for Britain’s relationship with Brussels. If Grayling can set out this level of detail on human rights, they may reason, why not on freedom of movement?
It is unfair, though, to say that this is a panic measure in response to Ukip seizing the news agenda, as Grayling has been working on the proposals for months. But it is very useful for the Tories to announce it now.