Liz Truss told Conservatives MPs she was “prepared” to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights if reforms aimed at reducing the influence of judges in Strasbourg are not successful.
The foreign secretary and leadership hopeful told a hustings event organised by Tory right-wingers that if became necessary to withdraw, “I would be prepared to do that”.
However, Ms Truss’s team have insisted that such a move would be a last resort.
The top contender’s preferred way of reducing the influence of Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights – which oversees the convention – would be through the government’s proposed “bill of rights”.
Ms Truss’s allies have contrasted the position with the more hard-line stance taken by rival Suella Braverman – who claimed the European Court of Human Rights was “thwarting our democracy” and the UK must remove itself from its jurisdiction.
It follows Tory outrage over the first planned Rwanda deportation flight being halted after last-minute rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and the UK’s appeal court.
Further attempts to send asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda for “offshore processing”, a bid to reduce small boat crossings in the English Channel, are not likely to be made until after a judicial review begins later this week.
Kemi Badenoch and Nadhim Zahawi were said to be “open to withdrawal” from the European convention at last night’s hustings by the Common Sense Group of MPs, while Rishi Sunak did not rule out the possibility, according to Politico.
In the wake of last month’s failed first attempt to send migrants to Rwanda, asked if the UK could end its relationship with the Strasbourg court, Mr Sunak said: “All options are on the table”.
The bill of rights put forward by justice minister Dominic Raab is partly aimed at giving British courts greater powers to ignore rulings by the European court, currently the ultimate arbiter of the human rights convention for dozens of countries.
However, withdrawing as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights would be a radical step.
It would put the next prime minister in the same company as Vladimir Putin’s regime after Russia announced in March it would cease to be party to the convention and was ending jurisdiction of the European court.
The row comes as Conservative leadership contender Jeremy Hunt said he would back an expansion of the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda.
Viewed as a Tory moderate, Mr Hunt is keen to build support from people in the right of the party keen to see further crackdowns on small boat crossing in the English Channel.
“I hope we could find some other countries as well as Rwanda,” Mr Hunt told the Sunday Telegraph. “I think we have to stop the small boats. I support the current policy.”
Mr Tugendhat – hoping to win the support of the One Nation wing of Tory moderates – also said he would keep the “Rwanda solution” policy put forward by Boris Johnson’s government.
“The Rwanda solution is not one anyone would have initially chosen, but the reality is you cannot have rewards for criminality and illegal action,” he told the Sunday Times.
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