Fraser Nelson

How Clegg outmanoeuvred Cameron over the ECHR

How Clegg outmanoeuvred Cameron over the ECHR
Text settings

News that Nick Clegg has brilliantly outmanoeuvred Cameron over the British Bill of Rights will come as no surprise to CoffeeHousers — we told you so last March. The panel was stuffed full of ECHR enthusiasts, balanced by Tories most of whose competence lay in other legal areas. Perhaps Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, the most clued-up of the Tory appointees, didn’t realise this when he joined the panel. He has twigged now, and has quit (or was eased out, depending on whose version of events you believe); observing that the ‘Lib Dem tail is wagging the Conservative dog’. As was evident from the start. Duschinsky made his j'accuse on BBC1's Sunday Politics today, saying he believes the commission is intended to thwart the Prime Minister's will on Europe - and with Ken Clarke's connivance.  

But can you really blame the Lib Dems? They are serious about keeping Strasbourg’s rule intact, and David Cameron has never quite liked the idea of changing this — but has felt he ought to assuage his party. This commission was a stalling device, and it’s to Pinto-Duschinsky’s credit that he has resigned rather than continue with this farce.

A British Bill of Rights can be drawn up, be declared senior to Strasbourg — and that’s it. You really don’t need all this fuss. As the Metric Martyrs judgment established, Parliament is sovereign. Superimposing ECHR rulings on English law is causing havoc, as the votes-for-prisoners debacle showed. But even the Tories themselves are split on the matter. Ken Clarke is a big fan of the ECHR, and his department — the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Justice — is suggesting a Matrix Chambers QC to be our next judge in Strasbourg. Even in opposition, the Tories struggled to come up with a coherent position on Strasbourg. In coalition, there was no chance of them doing any better.

Pinto-Duschinsky has no legal expertise, but as a policy academic he knows the area well and his Policy Exchange pamphlet on the subject is well worth a read. PDF here.