Downing Street ‘not ruling out’ European Convention on Human Rights withdrawal after Rwanda flight blow

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The UK government has said it is ‘keeping all options on the table’ as it considers withdrawing from European Convention on Human Rights

The UK could pull out of Europe’s human rights framework after last-minute legal rulings blocked the government’s plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Downing Street said it is keeping “all options on the table” and has not ruled out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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Priti Patel said he will “not be deterred from doing the right thing” despite the ECHR blocking the first flight to Rwanda (Photo: Getty Images)Priti Patel said he will “not be deterred from doing the right thing” despite the ECHR blocking the first flight to Rwanda (Photo: Getty Images)
Priti Patel said he will “not be deterred from doing the right thing” despite the ECHR blocking the first flight to Rwanda (Photo: Getty Images) | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The debate on withdrawing comes after three asylum seekers due to the on the first flight to Rwanda had their removal blocked on Tuesday night (14 June) by the Strasbourg-based court, which interprets the ECHR.

UK courts had all failed to block the flight before takeoff, with the ECHR being the last line of appeal for lawyers representing the asylum seekers at threat of being deported.

Three of the asylum seekers due to be on the plane were granted injunctions by the Court of Appeal after three judges held an urgent hearing at 9.50pm on Tuesday, just 40 minutes before the flight was due to take off.

The ECHR had initially publicly confirmed details of just one of the cases heard by an out-of-hours judge.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel described the ECHR intervention as “very surprising” and said the Home Office legal team is reviewing “every decision made on this flight”.

Could the UK withdraw from the ECHR?

Asked if the UK could withdraw from the ECHR, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government is “ keeping all options on the table, including any further legal reforms that may be necessary”.

Attorney General Suella Braverman echoed that position and said many people would be frustrated at the role played by a “foreign court”.

Pressed on whether withdrawing from the ECHR was a possibility, she told the BBC’s World At One programme: “We’re not ruling anything in and we’re not ruling anything out.”

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She added: “We are definitely open to assessing all options available as to what our relationship should be going forward with the European Court of Human Rights.”

A succession of Tory MPs also pushed for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg court.

Alexander Stafford condemned the “despicable ruling from the foreign European Court of Justice” while Sir Desmond Swayne said: “We are going to have to grasp the nettle and extend the principle of ‘taking back control’ to the convention.”

Jonathan Gullis, a ministerial aide to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, said “the ECHR’s role in UK law needs looking at urgently”, but reportedly deleted an initial social media post suggesting the court’s role should be removed entirely.

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Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the party, echoed his comments, calling the ECHR’s intervention in the Rwanda situation “a legal farce”.

What would withdrawing from the ECHR mean?

Withdrawing from the ECHR would be fraught with difficulties because it underpins human rights obligations in international treaties, including the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit deal.

Pulling out of the convention, drawn up by the Council of Europe which Winston Churchill was instrumental in founding in the aftermath of the Second World War, would also risk damaging the UK’s reputation on the world stage.

The UK’s membership to the ECHR was unaffected by Brexit as neither the convention nor the court are European Union creations.

A full High Court review of the plan is expected in July but Downing Street indicated a new flight to Rwanda could take place before the legal process is completed.

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