Amid much banter about the seeming obsolescence of white middle-class men, last week’s cabinet reshuffle sent an unequivocal message to legal observers. The departure of Kenneth Clarke, together with that of Dominic Grieve, was grim news indeed for what certain tabloid newspapers dub ‘the human rights brigade’.
Their removal, together with that of police minister Damian Green, has paved the way for the Conservatives to go into next year’s general election committed to, at the very least, amending the Human Rights Act and taking steps to ‘limit’ the power of the European Court of Human Rights.
Proposals put to the prime minister by Conservative lawyers stop short of a repeal of the HRA and withdrawal from the convention. This surely reflects the fact that any detailed examination of the mechanics of withdrawal and repeal bring the examiner face-to-face with many tangible ways in which either step would damage the UK’s hard and soft power in the institutions and contexts we seek to influence.
Clarke has said it was ‘unthinkable’ to depart from the convention, adding: ‘It is the way we uphold the values we strive for which are the rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all.’
Resiling from all that is difficult. But those scheming to do so had some success last week.