Theresa May is planning to drop a key Conservative manifesto pledge and nix plans for a Bill of Rights, government sources have suggested.
The Bill was intended to replace the Human Rights Act, which has proved controversial thanks to its use by terrorists and foreign criminals to avoid deportation. Introduced in 1998, the Act was introduced by the Labour government to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty independent of the European Union (EU).
Ministers confirmed this week that plans to ditch the Human Rights Act were being delayed until Britain had left the EU, but sources close to the government have told The Telegraph that they may be scrapped entirely.
The decision appears to have been made following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Article 50 this week which determined that Britain will not be subject to European Court of Justice rulings after Brexit.
The ruling has apparently led insiders to believe that British courts will be sovereign when Britain exits the EU.
But Martin Howe QC, who has advised the Conservatives on their proposed plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, has warned that it may not be that simple.
“If they dropped the whole thing it would be deeply disappointing because the problem is there and it would not go away,” he said.
“The European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution and we will still be subject to its jurisdiction after we leave the EU. We can get Brexit out of the way then come back to think about it again.”
The Conservative Party’s 2015 Manifesto contained, on page 73, the promise to “scrap [the] Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK” with a view to reversing “the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society”.
Failing to honour that promise may prompt a rebellion by Conservative MPs over the issue – but it is possible that they will be too preoccupied with Brexit to give the matter much attention.
Sir Oliver Heald, a justice minister, told his Parliamentary colleagues this week that plans to scrap the Human Rights Act will be delayed until after Brexit.
Addressing Sir Oliver, David Nuttall, a Conservative MP, asked: “It is of course right that our manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act remains on the Government’s agenda.
“But does my Right Honourable and Learned Friend agree that leaving the European Union and freeing the United Kingdom from the bonds of the charter of fundamental rights must be their top priority?”
Sir Oliver replied: “I do agree with that. I think it important for us to sort out the EU side of matters, and the exit from the EU, before we return to that subject.”