In mid-March, I noted a speech by Home Secretary Theresa May, in which she advanced the idea that the UK should consider withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. As I noted then, the European Court on Human Rights had, again, blocked the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan. Qatada, who is considered by Britain to be connected to terrorism, was ordered to be allowed to remain in the UK because the Court did not credit Jordanian assurances that his trial would not be tainted by evidence secured through torture.
Now comes news that the UK has signed a treaty with Jordan, intended to grant a fair trial, and the Home Secretary has again spoken (this time in the Commons) about the possibility of withdrawing from the European human rights treaty. That would, indeed, be big news. Two notable points about this possibility:
First, the thought about leaving the Convention is not a uniquely Conservative one. During the prior Labor government, then-Home Secretary John Reid (now Lord Reid) also spoke publicly about withdrawing from the Convention. The reason was different then — a challenge to Britain’s detention policies — but the underlying cause was the same — a concern about the diminishment of British freedom of action to combat terrorism. The general convergence between the parties on this issue was also reflected in the shadow Home Secretary’s statement that she would “work with the government” to see Qatada deported.
Second, it is worth noting that this possibility has been publicly discussed since at least 2007. That suggests that we ought not to expect any precipitous action by the UK. This is especially the case because domestic British Courts (including their Supreme Court) seem to share the judgment of the European Court and have also moved to block Qatada’s deportation. There would be little value in withdrawing from an international convention only to be frustrated by domestic considerations.