Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a move that could cause a significant division in the government before the upcoming general election. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Business Secretary Kemi Badenooch have both called for discussions on the UK’s ECHR membership, citing concerns about the government’s inability to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Home Secretary Suella Braverman has long supported leaving the convention.
Sunak has made stopping small boats carrying asylum-seekers from France a key priority, with deportation to Rwanda playing a central part in his policy. However, the Strasbourg court overseeing the ECHR has intervened to block this effort. The British Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the plan by the end of the year. If Sunak’s team fails to win the case, pressure to withdraw from the convention will likely escalate. Gove, who backed Badenoch for party leader last year, believes the UK should “keep every option open.”
The issue is significant as the UK was deeply involved in drafting and signing the ECHR in 1951. While not affiliated with the European Union, it has become a contentious issue among supporters of Brexit, who view it as enabling foreign control over the country’s immigration policy. Withdrawing would expose Sunak to accusations of relinquishing the UK’s global leadership.
Throughout its history, only two countries have abandoned the ECHR: Greece did so during a period of military rule but later rejoined, and Russia under President Putin also exited. The treaty’s fundamental principles include free elections, respect for property rights, and access to education.
“I don’t feel that leaving the ECHR is necessary to achieve our goals of protecting our borders,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
If Sunak decides to withdraw the UK from the ECHR, he would face an immediate challenge as the convention is incorporated into the peace treaty that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in 1998. “What alternative does the Good Friday Agreement have?” questioned Security Minister Tom Tugendhat.
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