There have been two major reactions to reports that Rishi Sunak is ready to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights if that’s what it takes to solve the small boats issue in the Channel.
The first, common among denizens of the Westminster village, is surprise that an outwardly conventional product of the system would even contemplate such a radical move. The second, prevalent among disenchanted former Tory voters on social media, is a diamond-hard cynicism that tells them they are being conned again and he will never do it. After 13 consecutive years of Conservative failure to get on top of immigration – either legal or illegal – despite numerous airy promises that overall volumes will come down and those arriving on dinghies will be ‘sent back’ this is quite understandable.
But circumstances are very different now and Sunak’s approach is far more strategic and clear-eyed than Boris Johnson’s ever was. The Prime Minister knows his party is in a hole on illegal immigration, that its core voters have lost faith in it and that the issue really matters. He understands that just talking a good game, as his flamboyant predecessor did for so long, is now worse than useless.
He has even incorporated stopping the boats as one of five core goals by which he asks that his premiership should be judged. Like Liz Truss before him, he cannot compete with Johnson as a natural communicator. So ‘does what it says on the tin’ is his only hope. And one thing he wrote on his tin, in large print, is ‘stop the boats’.
This means that we are indeed on a conveyor belt to a second Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European human rights architecture constructed after World War Two.
Rather as was the case with the first Brexit, the key European institution involved – this time round the European Court of Human Rights – can choose to avert such an outcome by offering the UK sufficient room for manoeuvre to keep it within the club.