Rishi Sunak accused of ‘willy waving’ over threat to pull UK out of ECHR

Rishi Sunak accused of ‘willy waving’ over threat to pull UK out of ECHR

Rishi Sunak has been accused of “willy waving” over reported plans to remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (EHRC) in an attempted crackdown on illegal migration.

Former Tory justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland and other senior Tories have spoken out against the mooted withdrawal – warning it would put Britain in the same camp as Russia.

Jackie Doyle-Price, Tory MP for Thurrock, also said that cutting ties with the Strasbourg court “will do zilch” following a report that the PM was willing to take the UK out of the ECHR if it interfered with domestic law.

She had been responding to her colleague Jonathan Gullis, Stroke-on-Trent North MP, who is supportive of withdrawal and posted a link to a story about reported plans on a Whatsapp group of Tory MPs.

“I have been a member of the Conservative Party for 36 years,” Ms Doyle-Price went on in the messages seen by the Politico website. “This group leaves me cold.

“Upholding the law should never be a matter for debate for a Conservative. Our Home Office is crap. If the government wants to have a phone[y] war over the ECHR instead of sorting itself out it can do it without me.”

She was backed by Tory MP David Simmonds who reportedly posted in the group: “The ECHR is not the issue here. By pretending it is, we are setting ourselves up for a fall as a UK court will take the same line.”

Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, also weighed in, saying that the proposed withdrawal from ECHR was not the right target: “We cannot tackle asylum claims when we haven’t given ourselves the legal grounding on coming here illegally.”

Sir Robert said it would be wrong to leave the convention, overseen by the Council of Europe. “It would be an undesirable state of affairs if the UK was to follow Russia out of the Council of Europe,” Mr Buckland told the Financial Times.

Sir Bob Neill also told the newspaper many Tories would treat the matter as a “red line,” saying: “If Conservatives don’t believe in the rule of law, what do we believe in? Are we going to put ourselves in the same company as Russia and Belarus? It would be unbelievable for a Conservative government to leave it.”

The government is said to be considering two options aimed at cutting the number of people making the treacherous journey across the Channel in small boats.

One proposal was to withdraw people’s right to appeal against their automatic exclusion from the asylum system. The second was to change the law so that people who arrive to the UK in small boats would only be allowed to lodge an appeal after they had already been deported.

Sources close to Mr Sunak told the Sunday Times that if Strasbourg holds up legislation that has been put onto the UK’s statute books then he would consider whether remaining in the ECHR is in the UK’s “long-term interests”.

PM has made tackling illegal migration one of his top priorities (PA)
PM has made tackling illegal migration one of his top priorities (PA)

No 10 said on Monday there were “no plans” to withdraw. “We will of course comply with all our international obligations, and we are confident the measures being worked through will tackle the problem while being compliant with the ECHR.”

However, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman did not rule out the possibility of a withdrawal in future. Asked whether a “plan B” of leaving the ECHR was under consideration, the spokesman replied: “I wouldn’t get into future speculation.

Mr Sunak, who marked 100 days in office last week, has made cutting illegal immigration one of his key priorities for 2023, along with halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, and bringing down NHS waiting lists.

Mr Sunak, in a speech on 4 January, promised voters that he would pass new laws to “stop small boats” and make sure that if “you come to this country illegally, you are swiftly removed.”

Jackie Doyle-Price accused Sunak of ‘willy waving’
Jackie Doyle-Price accused Sunak of ‘willy waving’

Polls show that reducing immigration is among voters’ top concerns, particularly in the ‘red wall’ seats in the North of England that analysts say is key to Mr Sunak’s fortunes at the next general election.

Official estimates suggested that 65,000 migrants were expected to arrive in the UK this year - compared to the 45,000 who claimed asylum in 2022.

Although judges ruled in December 2022 that the government’s Rwanda plan was legal, the policy been beset by challenges and appeals by migrants on human rights grounds. No asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda yet.

Tom Hunt, the MP for Ipswich who has been vocal in his support for the government’s immigration plans, indicated he would support removing the UK from the ECHR.

A government aide told Playbook: “The British people expect us to stop the boats and that’s what our legislation must do ... We will still meet our international obligations and stay within the ECHR, but we have to overcome this problem or face electoral Armageddon.”