David Cameron is facing diplomatic isolation and his first backbench rebellion over plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and exempt the Government from implementing unfavourable European Court of Human Rights rulings.
Mr Cameron has made the abolition of Labour’s 1998 legislation a key part of his 100-day policy offensive and the measure is expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech later this month.
But the Prime Minister is already facing a revolt from a growing number of his backbenchers over the proposals with a former aide to the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove warning that they have less than a 5 per cent chance of being implemented.
The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is also expected to meet fierce opposition to the plans when he attends a Council of Europe meeting of foreign ministers next week.
He is expected to be told that the current Tory proposals, that would allow the UK Parliament to opt out of rulings by the ECHR that it disagreed with, would be incompatible with its obligations under Convention of Human Rights. This could even lead to Britain’s expulsion from the organisation it helped found in the wake of the Second World War.
“You cannot pick and choose which decisions of the court you abide by,” said a source. “That is not what the rule of law is about.”
Plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights were first unveiled at the Conservative conference last October after a long-running dispute with the Strasbourg court over the right of prisoners to vote. They stated that any future judgment that UK law “was incompatible with the Convention will be treated as advisory” and could be ignored by Parliament.
But the plans face strong opposition from both the legal profession and senior Conservatives including the former Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke and the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
Mr Grieve has described the proposals as a “recipe for chaos”.
One Conservative backbencher said plans were “legally incoherent” and predicted Mr Cameron would face a Commons defeat if he attempted to make anything more than cosmetic changes to the current laws.
“If what emerges is a lot of sound and fury but no attempt to fiddle with fundamental rights as set down by the Convention then what we have is the Human Rights Act in all but name and that will be fine,” they said.
“But if there is any fundamental attempt to move away from that position then it will be dead in the water. Any such proposals will be torn to shreds by people like Dominic Grieve and many others who actually understand how our constitution works.”
Senior legal figures have also warned the proposals will face strong private opposition from the judiciary who are concerned at the potential to ride roughshod over more than 50 years of human rights advances both in the UK and Europe.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, an expert on human rights law and founder of the United Kingdom Supreme Court blog said the proposals were “fraught with legal and political difficulties” which appeared to be “insoluble”.
“Not only will ministers have to deal with domestic constitutional problems of scrapping the Human Rights Act which is incorporated into the Scotland Act and Good Friday Agreement but the international ramifications are also profound.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government was elected with a manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Ministers will be discussing their plans and making announcements in due course.”
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