David Cameron is by instinct not a radical leader. We have another example of his preference to keep the boat steady in today’s Telegraph, which reports the Prime Minister has decided Britain won’t quit the European Convention on Human Rights, much to the chagrin of Theresa May and Michael Gove. Although the Conservative manifesto promised to make the British Supreme Court ‘the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK’, it did not explicitly mention leaving the convention.
Gove and May believe that leaving the convention — as well as a much-discussed exit from the European Court of Human Rights — is the only way to fulfil this pledge. But the Prime Minister disagrees. A senior government source tells the paper:
‘Withdrawal is not going to happen. Michael Gove and Theresa May think it’s the only solution but David Cameron’s clear this is off the table. The British bill of rights could mitigate the worst excesses of the human rights act but it won’t change the fundamentals.’
Instead, Cameron will push for a ‘halfway house’ solution: Britain will remain a signatory to the convention but will still repeal the Human Rights Act, which locks the convention into British law. Even then, the plans to scrap the HRA have been tossed into the future, with no reference to a British Bill of Rights in the Queen’s Speech. Instead, a consultation is reportedly due to begin in September, allowing Gove to gather opinions from the legal community as well as planning for a potentially bruising Commons standoff.
Although this little episode is just the latest in the European saga — which will roll on for at least the next two years — it offers a hint as to how Cameron intends to govern as Prime Minister of a Tory government. Whereas some in his party, such as his former guru Steve Hilton, hoped he would become a radical reformer, the signs so far suggest he will remain a steady hand.
In the last government, the greatest reforms came from the Cabinet ministers, not from No.10 and so far, it appears the next five years will be the same. For those hoping to stick two fingers up at Brussels, this will be a disappointment. But for others, who believe in careful navigation of these tricky waters, they will be pleased with what Cameron the cautious PM has said so far.