A plea to Downing Street over the ECHR. Please put up or shut up.
By Paul Goodman
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A colleague of the Prime Minister's once said to me that the Prime Minister would never cooly plan Britain's exit from the European Convention of Human Rights, but would lose his temper with the court after a more than usually patience-snapping judgement - and pull us out. Readers will remember that he told the Commons that the prospect of votes for prisoners made him "sick in the stomach". The Sun reports today that Cameron told Ministers yesterday that Abu Qatada's continued presence in Britain makes his "blood boil". The ECHR is plainly bad for David Cameron's health. The paper also reports that the Prime Minister "is considering a temporary withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights so judges in Strasbourg can’t block Qatada’s expulsion".
In simple terms, the ECHR choice is clear. Ministers should either say that we will leave, and take Britain out. Or, if coalition (plus an unwillingness to lose at least two senior Ministers) makes this impossible, they should keep quiet. Drawing up policy for the next Conservative manifesto is a different matter. Chris Grayling has charge of doing so, may conclude that we should quit, and is presumably mulling over the content and the timing. Any potency that it may have risks being devalued if Ministers, let alone Number Ten, drop hints that Britain may walk out...and then nothing happens. The only person likely to gain from it is Nigel Farage. In opposition, Cameron used to taunt Gordon Brown for "treating people like fools". So how would he describe marching voters up to the top of hill over the ECHR, only promptly to march them down again?