enior ministers are reportedly split over whether the UK should ditch its commitment to an international human rights agreement that underpins the country’s duty to help migrants.
Newspaper reports suggest that at least eight Cabinet ministers are among the senior Tories prepared to put leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at the heart of the Conservatives’ next election campaign if deportation flights are blocked by the courts.
The Daily Telegraph reported that up to a third of the Cabinet will join other Conservative MPs in backing the move, in a bid to tackle small boats crossing the English Channel.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick had hinted on Wednesday that the Government could pull out of the agreement, which is ruled on by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
And we’ll do whatever is necessary ultimately to defend our borders and to bring order to our asylum system
“You can see from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and myself, our total commitment to this challenge,” he said.
“That’s why we’re working on every possible front. That’s why we have produced the most comprehensive plan, I believe, of any European country to tackle this issue.
“And we’ll do whatever is necessary ultimately to defend our borders and to bring order to our asylum system.”
He said the Government would do “whatever is necessary” when pressed again about whether he could rule out withdrawing from the ECHR.
The agreement is a Council of Europe convention, rather than a European Union one, so is not affected by Brexit.
Attempts by ministers to fly unauthorised migrants to Rwanda for deportation were grounded after an eleventh hour decision by a Strasbourg judge in June last year.
The Rwanda plan continues to face a Supreme Court battle, and there is pressure within the Conservative Party to pull out of the ECHR to make it easier to address the situation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously resisted calls to withdraw from the ECHR, and attempts to reform the UK’s human rights law with the intent of circumnavigating Strasbourg were thrown out when Dominic Raab resigned as justice secretary.
Ministers do however now have the power to ignore certain injunctions from the European court, following the passage of the Illegal Migration Act.
Pulling out of the convention would put the UK at odds with the majority of European nations and could also cause complications over the operation of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and post-Brexit deals with the EU.
Senior Conservatives were also split over the effectiveness of the Government’s actions so far to stop small boats crossings, one of the Prime Minister’s five pledges to the public when he came to office.
Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson claimed the Government had “failed” to tackle the issue.
“We have said we are going to fix it – it is a failure,” Mr Anderson told GB News.
But Mr Jenrick said he disagreed, saying that “we’ve put in place a number of things in the course of the last few months which are already seeing dividends”.
The Home Office minister however continued to defend Mr Anderson after he claimed migrants who complained about the newly opened accommodation barge should “f*** off back to France”.
Mr Jenrick said his colleague was expressing the “deep frustration of a large body of the British public”.