Home secretary and potential Conservative leadership candidate Theresa May today made the government's most explicit threat yet of withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights – while defending remaining under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
In a speech in central London on the UK's place in the world, May (pictured) said 'it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court'.
Membership of international institutions should be subject to five tests, she said: 'Does it make us more influential beyond our own shores? Does it make us more secure? Does it make us more prosperous? Can we control or influence the direction of the organisation in question? To what extent does membership bind the hands of parliament?'
While EU membership, along with that of Nato and the World Trade Organization, passed those tests, the case for remaining a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights is 'less clear'.
She said: 'The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.'
Dismissing claims that there is little point in leaving the ECHR while remaining a member of the EU with and its Charter of Fundamental Rights, May said there are several problems that apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yet do not apply to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
'Strasbourg is in effect a final appeals court; Luxembourg has no such role. Strasbourg can issue orders preventing the deportation of foreign nationals; Luxembourg has no such power. Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights, the European treaties are clear: “national security,” they say, “remains the sole responsibility of each member state".'
May made a passing reference to the British Bill of Rights, publication of which was promised before the end of 2015 but which is understood to be languishing in the prime minister's in-tray.
'A true British Bill of Rights - decided by parliament and amended by parliament - would protect not only the rights set out in the convention but could include traditional British rights not protected by the ECHR, such as the right to trial by jury,' she said.
Today's speech will be interpreted as a bid to build bridges with the Brexit wing of her own party in the next leadership contest.
However it was immediately condemned by human rights lawyers.
Bella Sankey, policy director at pressure group Liberty, said: ‘It was only a matter of time before the ECHR got dragged into the EU referendum debate. But the convention doesn’t bind parliament and - despite Theresa May’s best efforts at mud-slinging and myth-spreading over the years - the case for remaining a signatory is unequivocal.’