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Senior Tory Refuses To Say If UK Plans To Pull Out of European Convention On Human Rights

The cabinet minister refused to say whether she backed an exit from the ECHR

3 min read

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has refused to confirm whether she was in favour of the UK leaving the European Convention On Human Rights after the government's plans to send migrants to Rwanda were blocked.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who Coffey is backing in the Conservative leadership contest, has reportedly already told MPs that if she became Prime Minister, she would be "prepared to leave" if European courts continued to exert influence on the UK's immigration plans.

Last month the first flight deporting migrants from the UK to Rwanda as part of a controversial new policy aimed at deterring people from illegally crossing the channel was blocked by the ECHR following a series of individual legal challenges. It is believed that subsequent flights would face the same fate. 

But Coffey avoided giving her full backing to the plans on Thursday, saying only that the ECHR should be "reformed", a stance she claimed was held broadly within her party.

"In terms of the ECHR I think it is fair to say most politicians believe there has been mission creep, I would suggest," she told Sky News. 

"It would have been a surprise to the British public to hear one morning that a European court had blocked the plane going to Rwanda, recognising our latest immigration policy."

In hustings for the Tory leadership contest, Truss has leaned towards strengthening the UK's ability to enact policies like Rwanda if she were to become Prime Minister, in order to appeal to the right wing of the party. 

"I think at a meeting the other night, all the candidates...indicated they'd rather get reform and that is Liz's position in order to reform the ECHR and also to do the Bill of Rights," Coffey continued. 

"Others did say if necessary they would be up for that as well."

Coffey, however, did not explicitly back the move. 

"I think we need to reform where we are, that is what we are doing with the Bill of Rights," she continued. 

"Theresa May said during the EU referendum that she would rather leave the ECHR than leave the European Union, so I think it indicates this is a broad view."

Tory MPs expressed anger after the Strasbourg court stepped in to block the flights of Channel migrants to Rwanda earlier this year, with a Judicial Review of the policy now set for September.

The Home Office has already suggested they would continue planning for the flights to go ahead, but are not expected to press ahead with the removals until after the court session.

Attorney General Suella Braverman, who is also through to the next round of the leadership contest, has been the most vocal candidate on the ECHR, saying the UK could only deliver Brexit if it left.

Speaking earlier this week, she said: "Obstructing lawful, politically legitimate deportations by going to the ECHR destroys trust in politics. And does nothing for public safety, or the wellbeing of the victims of people smugglers.

"Keeping us in the ECHR simply fuels the misery of people trafficking in the channel."

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