Chris Grayling is right to raise one of the key elements in the EU debate — doubt
By Peter Hoskin
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This morning’s edition of the Telegraph contains an interview with Chris Grayling, from which a number of points stand out…
1. Another attack on the ECHR. We know Chris Grayling’s views on the European Court of Human Rights, not least because he set them out in Paul Goodman’s interview with him for this site. But it’s still striking how much firmer, and less forgiving, his rhetoric is becoming. In ConHome’s interview, he said of the prospect of a Conservative government quitting the ECHR that, “I’m not ruling it in or ruling it out at this stage.” Today, according to the Telegraph write-up:
“He says that, at the very least, the reach of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) should be limited in Britain — and that after a series of controversial rulings the Tories may ultimately leave the system.”
2. Which becomes an attack on the courts in general. And it’s not just the ECHR on the receiving end of Mr Grayling’s disapproval; British judges come in for it, too. As the paper puts it:
“Mr Grayling accepts that this is not simply a ‘European problem’ and that British judges have also made questionable judgments surrounding the human rights of suspected terrorists and criminals.”
And the report continues:
“‘We’ve got to look at exactly why this is happening,’ he says. ‘I think there is an overwhelming mood for change.’”
There are parallels here between Mr Grayling’s outside-the-legal-Establishment approach and the way that Jeremy Hunt is setting himself up as patient’s champion.
3. The promise of tougher sentences. Again, this shouldn’t be too surprising — coming as it is from Mr Grayling — but it’s still noteworthy. The Justice Secretary suggests that he wants to see an end to automatic early release from jail. Or, as the paper reports:
"Chris Grayling says that he would 'ultimately' like to introduce a system under which only prisoners who have behaved well are released early."
4. A plea to potential Ukip voters. Intriguingly, Mr Grayling also makes a direct appeal to those considering voting Ukip:
“‘I think all those who are tempted to say, “oh well, you know if we just went off and voted Ukip it would some how make a big difference” … I think they’re making a fundamental mistake. They risk gifting the leadership of this country in what will be a crucial period to the Labour Party.
The Labour Party that signed up to the Lisbon Treaty, that promised we would not end up in the position we’re in, promised a referendum and then welshed on it and just signed up anyway. The Labour Party cannot be trusted with Britain’s interests in Europe and anyone who is interested in doing anything else than getting behind David Cameron on this issue is making a big mistake.’”
Of course, this argument focuses on Europe. But I wonder whether it will also be used in the case of Ukip supporters' other concerns, such as immigration or welfare, as per Lord Ashcroft's polling.
…but, despite all that, one line stood out to my eyes more than any other. It was Mr Grayling's suggestion that David Cameron be "given the benefit of the doubt" when it comes to Europe.
Why is this so striking? Because it's a strange phrase for a minister to use. After all, Downing St tends to deal in certainties: they are, for instance, currently putting it about that Mr Cameron is the most Eurosceptic Prime Minister that this country has had. Doubt, even the benefit of it, is rarely countenanced.
But Mr Grayling is right to raise this doubt, as it is likely to be one of the dominant features of the forthcoming debate over Europe. Not only will Mr Cameron face the doubt that has built up over years of broken promises and denied referenda, but he will also face the doubt created by Coalition. He might promise repatriation or renegotiation, but little can be done in partnership with the Lib Dems. He will be asking people to take it on trust that a Conservative majority government will do these things. He will be asking for, yes, the benefit of the doubt.
This is why it is important that Mr Cameron's forthcoming Europe speech has two particular qualities, above all others: that it is clear about how, and when, the Prime Minister will act, and that it is realistic about what can be done. If Britian cannot really retreat into a trade-only relationship with Europe (which I don't think it can), then that should be said. If a referendum will have to wait until 2017, 2017 or beyond, then that should be said too. And so on.
I don't agree with all of its content, but Janan Ganesh's suggested draft speech for the PM (£) certainly has this sort of clarity. It's worth a read.