British minister vows to quit convention on human rights

Home Secretary blasts rules making it difficult for country to boot out 'dangerous foreigners'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 3:33am

Home Secretary Theresa May said yesterday her ruling Conservative party would take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights if re-elected in 2015.

She said she would include such a promise in the party's election manifesto.

"It's ridiculous that the British government should have to go to such lengths to get rid of dangerous foreigners," May said during the party's annual conference.

"That's why the next Conservative manifesto will promise to scrap the human rights act."

The act has made the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) enforceable in Britain's courts since 2000.

"If leaving the European Convention is what it takes to fix our human rights laws, that is what we should do," said May.

Although the convention is not part of the European Union system, British euro sceptics often drag it into the country's debate on Europe, holding it up as an unacceptable example of external interference in Britain's internal affairs.

A series of high-profile cases in which the European Court of Human Rights, which upholds the convention, has thwarted the British government have angered many voters and exposed successive governments to the accusation they do not control Britain's own borders.

May cited the case of radical cleric Abu Qatada, who resisted British attempts to send him to Jordan to face terrorism charges for more than a decade, as a prime example of what was wrong with the convention.

The pitch to voters came as a recent poll showed that the Conservatives were trailing 11 points behind the opposition Labour Party. Meanwhile, finance minister George Osborne proposed tougher new welfare rules to try to win over working voters who are grappling with depleted spending power ahead of the 2015 election.

Osborne promised he could sustain a recovery of Britain's US$2.5 trillion economy, but cautioned there was no room for complacency.

He held out the prospect of static petrol prices between now and 2015, said he would aim to return Britain to a budget surplus if his party won and said he would also increase investment spending by the same pace as economic growth.

"What I offer is a serious plan for a grown-up country that will create jobs, keep mortgage rates low and let people keep more of their income - tax free.

"It is the only route to better living standards."

Osborne's promises were designed to counter Labour's charge that Prime Minister David Cameron has presided over a cost of living crisis.

It was meant to appeal to working Britons who, according to polls, feel the country's annual £200 billion (HK$2.5 trillion) welfare system is too generous.

The Conservatives are on the back foot after Labour held its own conference last week and promised to freeze people's energy bills if elected.

Osborne said he wanted to end "a something for nothing" culture by obliging Britain's 200,000 long-term unemployed to undertake certain activities such as community work or face losing a portion of their welfare benefit.

The move, unveiled along with a new slogan "For Hardworking People", is likely to resurrect a long-running political row that critics say engenders divisive politics.