Lib Dems vow to block ‘headbanger’ Tory plans to limit power of the European Court of Human Rights if coalition continues after next election

David Cameron used this week’s Cabinet reshuffle to sack ministers opposed to withdrawing from the convention

The Liberal Democrats would veto Conservative plans to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights if the two parties form another coalition after next year’s general election.

Although Nick Clegg would not block David Cameron’s planned in/out referendum on the European Union in 2017, he would take a tougher line on moves that could end in Britain’s expulsion from the 47-nation Council of Europe. “Human rights is in our DNA; it would be more important than the referendum,” said a Liberal Democrat source.

The move means the Tories would need to win an overall majority to implement their plans.

Today Mr Clegg claimed “the headbangers” in the Conservative Party had won after Mr Cameron used this week’s Cabinet reshuffle to sack ministers opposed to withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). He accused the Conservatives of wanting to “line up with Vladimir Putin and other tyrants around the world by tearing up our long tradition of human rights”.

The Tories are drawing up plans to enable Westminster to assert its supremacy over the Strasbourg-based court. They are likely to be outlined in Mr Cameron’s Tory conference speech in October and included in the party’s election manifesto.

Although the Tories insist no final decisions have been taken, a group of Tory lawyers has concluded that a British Bill of Rights could force changes to the way the court operates. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, are among ministers who have berated it for preventing the deportation of foreign offenders and demanding the right to vote for some prisoners.

Critics have warned that the UK could be forced to withdraw from the convention, which underpins the court. Pulling out could even force Britain to leave the EU, they argue. The issue had provoked divisions within Conservative ranks with Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, and Kenneth Clarke, the former Minister without Portfolio, fiercely opposed to any alteration to Britain’s relationship with the court. But both were axed in this week’s reshuffle. Mr Grieve is said to have warned his former ministerial colleagues that the Tory plans are a “legal car crash with a built-in time delay”.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, told The Independent: “The ECHR came out of the horrors of the Second World War and is to a large extent a British invention we should be very proud of. There is no question of any change to the British position on the ECHR in this Parliament.

“It would be a hugely retrograde step to weaken our links with it. Those who value human rights need to consider that carefully before they cast their vote at the next general election. The ECHR is safe while the Lib Dems are in government.”

Professor Gavin Phillipson, of Durham University’s Law School, said: “You can’t pick and choose whether and when you comply with judgments of a court. Dominic Grieve understood this, which is why he had to go as Attorney General. These plans are incoherent.”

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