Justice Secretary’s fight to protect European Court of Human Rights in Sunak’s Tory manifesto

A series of secret recordings has revealed the scale of the Tories’ civil war over the abandonment of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm today in his manifesto that he will leave the door open to an exit or an attempt to reform the ECHR, inspired by Winston Churchill after the Second World War, by pledging to promote the protection of borders before foreign courts.

But a recording of Justice Secretary Alex Chalk speaking to Conservative members at the Two Cities Conservative reception on February 20 reveals he was opposed to the move.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk warned of ECHR exit
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk warned of ECHR exit (Getty Images)

Mr Chalk, who is also Lord Chancellor and barrister, was defending the Government’s Rwanda Bill to support deportations and arguing that the ECHR did not need to be amended.

Abandoning the ECHR is championed by Nigel Farage’s Reform Party, which divides the right-wing vote in British politics. But it has also become a cause of right-wing Conservative MPs, led by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.

Mr Chalk told the audience that leaving the ECHR could lead to a “situation where we break international law”.

He pointed out that the UK has “the second largest legal sector in the world” and suggested that leaving the ECHR would be a “leapfrog” where “you have destroyed everything”.

Prime Minister Rushi Sunak set to launch election manifesto today
Prime Minister Rushi Sunak set to launch election manifesto today (BBC/AP)

According to him, this could cause “a lot of damage” and prevent companies “from investing in our country”.

He said that “the trick to protecting our borders is to produce a bill that… sticks to the glass of international law, but ultimately does not violate it.”

Mr Chalk is part of the One Nation group on the left of the party, which supports maintaining international law.

In another intervention, Mark Warman, vice-president of the One Nation group and facing a challenge from the Reform Party’s Richard Tice in his constituency of Boston and Skegness, attacked those who want to leave the ECHR.

Asked about leaving the ECHR at an event at Kings College London on February 15, he replied: “I would be uncomfortable because I think it would not be an opportunity to win a vote. »

But he added: “I think there’s a lot of, I mean, I think, and I’ve said this publicly many times, that I think the ECHR needs really fundamental reform. And I think the refugee convention needs really fundamental reform. There are a lot of these great treatises…there are half a dozen explicitly named great treatises, and no one thinks any of them are perfect.

However, he noted: “While there are of course a significant number of people who would say ‘it’s immigration and the ECHR that are the crucial issue for the next election’, I think the reality is, and the poll says it, that it’s the economy, it’s the NHS, it’s the public services. So divisive issues are important, they show which side you are on, but they cannot be the main debate.”

But recordings of an event at the Margaret Thatcher Center in March showed that leaving the ECHR was part of a right-wing Tory plot to reshape the party after the end of Rishi Sunak’s leadership.

The two-day event was organized by the Margaret Thatcher Center and took place at the University of Buckingham.

It was funded by Donald Trump’s super donor Robert Mercer.

Attendees included Rishi Sunak’s current science minister, Andrew Griffith, as well as former ministers in the governments of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Conor Burns.

Other MPs present included Greg Smith and Andrew Rosindell, and the event heard a keynote speech from the then Brexit minister, Lord David Frost.

Sir Jacob proposed a number of policy interventions that the Conservative Party could make. These include repealing the Climate Change Act to restore “freedoms” and leaving the ECHR – an increasingly popular threat from the right of the Conservative Party.

In his remarks, he said: “I thought Liz Truss had so many good ideas that we wanted to implement them. »

He proposed repealing the Equality Act – although he acknowledged it was “not particularly diverse” – which he said could be done through a statutory instrument, without require a parliamentary vote. Sir Jacob suggested public sector groups could be “reclassified” to exclude them from equality legislation.

Andrew Griffith, currently Minister of Science, Innovation and Technology, has proposed a deregulated financial sector that would be “risk-friendly”, with tax incentives and a “lower tax rate” that would would recognize the “societal benefits” of the private sector. capital.

Mr Smith attacked the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) for “giving credence” to the idea that Liz Truss’s tax cuts were unfunded.

He said: “(The OBR) gives credence to the absurdity that there is an unfunded tax cut. As if any tax reduction was automatically a loss for the Treasury.”

Mr Burns attacked left-wing MPs in his party, including Tobias Ellwood and Caroline Noakes, and said he believed many true Tories were no longer Tories.

He said: “There are a lot of people who I consider to be real Tories who are now outside the Tory party. And there are many who I don’t consider to be conservatives who are now important within the Conservative Party.”

Mr Burns lamented the defection of Tories such as right-wing MP Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, to Reform UK, and implored attendees that “we need to move beyond this kind of Noakesian politics and to the Elwoodian who seeks to obtain the applause of those who “I will never vote for us”.

He added: “Those of my colleagues who turn to people who want to say about them: ‘Well, I don’t like these conservatives but this one isn’t too bad.’

“My friends, this does not constitute an electoral coalition, much less a solid majority in the House of Commons. »