UK would be global pariah like Russia if Sunak pulls out of ECHR, Tories warn
Rishi Sunak has been warned that withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) would make the UK an international pariah and put him in the same “inglorious company” as Vladimir Putin.
Senior Conservative MPs have spoken out against the mooted withdrawal from the landmark convention as a way of cracking down on small boats – warning that it would put Britain in the same camp as Russia.
Labour also urged Mr Sunak not to follow the “brutal dictator’s lead”, while a former national security adviser warned it would mean the end of cooperation with the EU on vital law enforcement.
No 10 said there was no current plans to pull out of the ECHR – but did deny the possibility of a withdrawal in future, following a report that the PM was considering doing so if his crackdown on English Channel crossings faces legal opposition.
Tory MP David Simmonds told The Independent he was “profoundly concerned” at the idea of “joining Russia and Belarus as the only European countries that aren’t participants in the convention”.
Mr Simmonds said the UK courts would still use human rights law to protect the rights of those attempting to claim asylum. “The Conservative party is the party of law and order, and we believe in the rule of law.”
The MP added: “Withdrawing from the convention would not help to address the issue of small boats. The convention is based on British legal rights and principles. It was written by British lawyers on the initiative of Winston Churchill.”
Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told TheFinancial Times that it would be “an undesirable state of affairs” for Britain to join Russia in quitting the ECHR.
Fellow senior Tory Sir Robert Neill also told the newspaper: “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.”
Tory backbencher Jackie Doyle-Price warned right-wingers on a Tory WhatsApp group that leaving the ECHR “will do zilch” – warning Mr Sunak against “willy waving” on the matter.
Sources close to Mr Sunak had told The Sunday Times that if the ECHR used the convention to hold up planned legislation then he would consider whether remaining a signatory is in the UK’s “long-term interests”.
One proposal thought to be in home secretary Suella Braverman’s plans is to withdraw people’s right to appeal against their automatic exclusion from the asylum system if they are deemed to arrive by an “illegal route”.
Campaigners made clear that they still expected UK courts to continue to listen to human rights claims made on behalf on individuals subjected to attempted removal on the basis of a particular route.
“To go as far as withdrawal from ECHR would give free reign to Suella Braverman to further oppress people who navigate our already hostile immigration system,” Jack Pelele, a spokesperson for the charity Detention Action, told The Independent.
The campaigner added: “It is an indication of the anti-rights culture of this government. It would put us in the inglorious company of Belarus and Russia on the world stage.”
The Refugee Council warned Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman against “the pursuit of unworkable, costly plans that will do nothing to stop people crossing the Channel”.
Clare Moseley, founder of the Care4Calais group, added: “Every day we work with people who have not been protected from violations of their human rights. Their terrible stories of abuse provide stark examples of why the UK must not leave the ECHR.”
Meanwhile Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser, warned that the UK would lose vital cooperation with the EU on law enforcement if it pulled out of the EHRC.
Lord Ricketts pointed out the Brexit agreement specifies that if either party “denounced” the ECHR, one part of the trade deal and cooperation deal would be terminated.
“That means the UK would automatically lose ALL its law enforcement cooperation with the EU (access to databases, Europol etc),” he tweeted.
Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “The ECHR was first envisioned by Sir Winston Churchill. The last country to leave was Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Are the Conservatives seriously considering following that brutal dictator’s lead?”
No 10 said on Monday there were “no plans” to withdraw and said the government would “of course comply with all our international obligations”.
Asked whether a “plan B” of leaving the ECHR was under consideration, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman: “I wouldn’t get into future speculation.”