Justice secretary Chris Grayling has revealed that the Conservatives will publish legislation on the UK’s relationship with European Convention on Human Rights before next May.

Grayling has previously hinted at his preference for outright withdrawal from the ECHR and, at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last night, gave his clearest sign yet that radical change is on the agenda.

Grayling reiterated his view that the convention is now too wide in scope and has departed too far from what its creators intended.

He said: ‘We have a clear plan for change and we will consider withdrawing altogether. We have to do the job properly and the strategy and draft bill has to command legal respect. We have to limit the role of ECHR at least.

‘We will take it to the ballot box at the European election. Last week [Labour shadow justice secretary] Sadiq Khan made a very clear statement to support the Human Rights Act. This is a genuine dividing issue and the public is on our side.’

Grayling is one of a number of ministers minded to advocate withdrawing from the ECHR, and prime minister David Cameron yesterday hinted that he may consider joining them.

Speaking to the BBC, Cameron said withdrawal is ‘where we may end up’ if Britain wants to ensure it can remove foreign criminals.

Cameron said: ‘As prime minister, what I want to know is can I keep our country safe. For instance, are we able to chuck out of our country people who have no right to be here, who threaten our country. I saw we should be able to do that. Whatever that takes, we must deliver that outcome. And that is what I think we have the next 20 months to do, and put in our manifesto.’