Tory deputy chairman attacks party over European Court in leaked recording

Matt Vickers
Matt Vickers has been deputy chairman of the Tory party since 2022

The deputy chairman of the Conservative Party privately attacked the Government for failing on a promise to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

Matt Vickers’ comments reflect concerns among Tory MPs on the Right of the party who have pushed for Rishi Sunak to take a tougher line over the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) including an explicit commitment to leaving it if Strasbourg judges continue to block deportation flights to Rwanda.

The manifesto, published on Tuesday, stepped back from an explicit threat to leave the ECHR and instead only stated that a future Conservative government would choose the UK’s security over the “jurisdiction of a foreign court” including Strasbourg.

The recording, obtained by the i newspaper, shows Mr Vickers, who has been deputy chairman of the Tory party since 2022, privately accusing his colleagues of failing to “sign up to deliver” on the 2019 manifesto commitment to deliver a new British Bill of Rights that would allow the Government to ignore the European court.

‘Get on with the damn thing’

In the recording, the Conservative MP responded to demands from attendees that the Government should deliver the 2019 manifesto pledge to pass a Bill of Rights, adding: “I agree with you… We should get on with the damn thing.”

Mr Vickers, speaking two months after the Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda policy to be illegal, continued: “We must now seriously consider the option of repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights, allowing us to control our borders, remove those with no right to be here and break up the business model of criminal gangs.”

The row over whether the UK should leave the ECHR has dominated Mr Sunak’s time in power, as the Prime Minister has attempted to strike as hard a line as possible on combating illegal migration into the UK, without having to abandon the court and the convention in its entirety.

The issue has caused a major rift within the party, with senior figures, such as Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, Robert Jenrick, the ex-immigration minister and Liz Truss, the former prime minister, all calling for Mr Sunak to leave the ECHR, something that the moderate wing of the Tory party has vowed to block.

The Conservative Party, responding to the recording, said that the job of deputy party chairman is not a government-paid role. A spokesman added: “Only the Conservatives have a clear plan to control our borders.”

Asked at the manifesto launch why he had not taken a tougher stance, the Prime Minister repeated the wording and pointed to powers in the Safety of Rwanda Act to ignore rule 39 orders, which the Strasbourg court had previously used to block the first deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022.

“I would not have put that power in the Bill if I was not prepared to use it,” he said.

The manifesto says the party will work with other countries to “rewrite” asylum treaties to make them fit for the “challenges” of illegal migration.

The manifesto pledged to run a “relentless, continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda with a regular rhythm of flights every month, starting this July until the boats are stopped”.

Along with the pledge on the ECHR, Mr Sunak maintained it would be an effective deterrent to stop the boats although he declined, for operational security reasons, to put a figure on the number of Rwanda flights per month, when asked.