A bill to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights has been pushed back until after the referendum on European Union (EU) membership. Insiders are claiming that the government has put the brakes on over fears that the bill may benefit the Leave campaign.
The measure was a key pledge by the Conservatives in their last manifesto, helping to secure them victory at the ballot box last May against all predictions. But the bill designed to implement the measure has been drawn up by Justice Secretary Michael Gove and his junior minister Dominic Raab, both of whom are significant figures in the campaign to leave the EU.
They have submitted a draft, but one Whitehall insider has told The Times: “The very strong indication is that you will have to wait until after June,” while another Westminster source said: “It’s in Number 10’s hands but I’ve seen nothing to suggest they’ll want to publish it before the referendum.”
The suggestion is that the bill is being delayed to avoid giving any advantage to the Leave campaign.
The bill has been significantly diluted since first being proposed by Mr Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling, another prominent Leave campaigner. But leaked drafts show that the intention is to “break the formal link” between Britain and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and “restore common sense” to human rights law.
Specifically, proponents want to make it easier for British courts to deport foreign criminals, and to protect British armed forces from vexatious claims of human rights abuses in the arena of war.
Although the European Court of Human Rights is not part of the EU architecture, the two are commonly linked in the public’s mind. The government therefore fears that a move to scrap a major EU Act could bolster the argument for leaving.
Jonathan Fisher, QC, who worked on the policy in 2012 said: “I imagine the government does not want to muddy the waters with the EU debate. Brexit proponents have made sovereignty a central feature of their campaign.”
Meanwhile the feud between former friends, the Prime Minister and Michael Gove, continues. Mr Cameron has suggested that Mr Gove may be fired from government if evidence can be found that he leaked a story to The Sun claiming that the Queen backs a Brexit.
Although the paper’s editor has refused to reveal the source of the story, rumours are persisting that Mr Gove was the one to leak the information. Mr Cameron was quizzed on the matter during a press conference in Ellesmere Port yesterday by a reporter who asked him whether he would fire any minister found to be behind the story.
“Obviously that would be very serious,” Mr Cameron replied.
Sun editor Tony Gallagher has told ITV: “I think it’s interesting to note that there is clearly a smear operation underway at the moment and an attempt to identify Michael Gove. It wouldn’t take too much of a cynic to assume that part of the reason for that is the desire to remove him as a leading light in the Leave campaign.
“And I think it’s worth putting into the public domain that among those circulating the idea that it is Michael Gove are people close to Nick Clegg.
“I think Nick Clegg has questions to answer because he’s gone from being ‘I don’t recollect this event’ to ‘it’s nonsense’ to now being certain it’s Michael Gove. So which is it? I think he has to answer that.”