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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Tory MP Insists Leaving ECHR Has "No Majority" Support In The Conservative Party


3 min read

A Tory MP who leads the UK delegation to the Council of Europe has said there is "no majority" of support in the Conservative Party for pulling out of the European Convention Of Human Rights (ECHR) after immigration minister Robert Jenrick did not rule out such a move in order to achieve the UK's goals to end illegal Channel crossings.

John Howell, the Conservative MP for Henley, told PoliticsHome that he did not think any government would be in a position to move away from the European court, and said that the UK leaving would mean “great disadvantage” as it would mean the country has to give up its membership of the Council of Europe. 

Howell is standing as the UK candidate for the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council for Europe. 

“I don’t think any government will move away from the ECHR, I don’t think any government is in a position to do so, I honestly believe that," said. 

“And in this Parliament, if you look at the Conservative Party, there is no majority at all for pulling out of the ECHR.” 

Howell currently leads the UK delegation at the Council of Europe. The ECHR was first drafted in 1950 by the then-newly formed Council of Europe, and also established the European Court of Human Rights. The convention came into force three years later in 1953, and all member states are party to the convention.

The government intends to reduce the number of migrants accommodated by hotels by forcibly deporting them to Rwanda, but the scheme has been stalled by legal challenges, including at the European Court. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Jenrick indicated that the government would consider leaving the ECHR, insisting that ministers would do “whatever it takes” to prevent small boat crossings. The immigration minister's comments are the latest example of tensions being stoked with the ECHR as a result of the government's asylum policy.

“There will always be some in the Conservative Party who want to pronounce the ECHR,” Howell continued. 

“There has been a group within the Conservative Party that has always wanted to pull out of the ECHR or was not interested in the first place. 

“That group has been quite small and subject to the overall attitude of the Conservative Party, and I think you’ve got to put it into that context.” 

Howell told PoliticsHome that the UK played a vital role in the Council of Europe, pointing towards leadership on removing Russia from the council following the invasion of Ukraine, and helping Sweden and Finland towards NATO membership, and it was therefore important to maintain the link. 

“I think it would be a great disadvantage to the UK if you've lost that ability to be able to carry on doing those sorts of things in the Council of Europe,” he added. 

“And the reason I say that is because you cannot be a member of the Council of Europe if you are not a member of the ECHR. They two go hand in hand”. 

The government has renewed its focus on migration policy this week, and the first male asylum seekers arrived to be housed on the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge, part of the plans to deter people from crossing the Channel. 

The vessel will provide “basic and functional” accommodation, but there are questions over how far the plans will go to completing Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”. 

PoliticsHome reported earlier today that Karl Williams, Deputy Research Director at the Centre for Policy Studies, who co-authored a report with former Downing Street senior advisor Nick Timothy on "stopping the boats", believes that the Bibby Stockholm is “addressing the symptoms and not the causes of the small boats and the crisis”. 

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