Katy Balls Katy Balls

‘Get the boats done’ – could there be a referendum on the ECHR?

(Photo: Getty)

It’s ‘stop the boats’ week in 10 Downing Street as part of government plans to avoid a news vacuum over the summer recess. There have been a range of announcements – from new measures against businesses that knowingly employ illegal migrants, along with plans to crackdown on ‘lefty lawyers’. However, Rishi Sunak’s problem can be summed up by his deputy chairman Lee Anderson – who declared on Tuesday that the government has ‘failed’ to stop migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. While this is not the official line from the government, it does reflect concerns that Sunak’s pledge to ‘stop the boats’ could end in failure.

‘It’s either stop the boats or leave the ECHR,’ says one senior Tory

It’s why talk of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is once again dominating the news. The Telegraph reports that Sunak will face calls from up to a third of his cabinet to put leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in the election manifesto if migrant deportation flights to Rwanda are blocked by the courts. The next court battle is likely to take place in the autumn when the government will go to the Supreme Court to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Rwanda scheme is unlawful.

As I have previously reported in The Spectator, a referendum on leaving the ECHR has long been seen in government as an option if progress cannot be made elsewhere. Sunak would first need to be convinced that leaving the ECHR is necessary – for example, if Strasbourg does somehow manage to frustrate the Rwanda scheme or the UK courts find against the government and declare Rwanda an unsafe country.

The Tories could then pledge a referendum on leaving the ECHR in their manifesto, hoping to reconvene the Brexit alliance of voters that delivered the 2019 majority.

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