The UK government has said it is “keeping all options on the table” as it considers withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights
The debate over the withdrawal comes after the deportation of three asylum seekers due to the first flight to Rwanda was blocked by the Strasbourg-based court, which interprets the ECHR, on Tuesday evening (14 June).
All UK courts had failed to block the flight before take-off, with the ECtHR being the final court of appeal for lawyers representing the asylum-seekers at risk of deportation.
Three of the asylum seekers who were supposed to be on the plane were granted restraining orders by the Court of Appeal after three judges held an urgent hearing at 9.50pm on Tuesday, just 40 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off.
The ECtHR had initially publicly confirmed details of just one of the cases, which were heard by a judge outside of business hours.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described the ECtHR’s intervention as “very surprising” and said the Home Office legal team is reviewing “every decision made on this flight”.
Could Britain withdraw from the ECHR?
Asked whether the UK could withdraw from the ECHR, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government “keeps all options on the table, including any further legal reforms needed”.
Attorney General Suella Braverman echoed that position, saying many people are frustrated with the role played by a “foreign court.”
Asked if withdrawing from the ECHR is possible, she told BBC program World At One: “We are not including and we are not excluding.”
She added: “We are definitely open to exploring all available options on how our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights should proceed.”
A number of Tory MPs also urged the UK to withdraw from the ECHR and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg court.
Alexander Stafford condemned the “despicable judgment of the foreign European Court of Justice”, while Sir Desmond Swayne said: “We will have to grab the nettle and extend the principle of ‘reconquest’ to the Convention.”
Jonathan Gullis, a ministerial assistant to Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis, said “the role of the ECtHR in UK law urgently needs to be examined”, but reportedly deleted an initial social media post that suggested the court’s role should be completely eliminated remove.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the party, reiterated his comments, calling the ECtHR’s intervention in the situation in Rwanda “a legal farce”.
What would withdrawing from the ECHR mean?
Withdrawing from the ECHR would be fraught with difficulties as it underpins human rights obligations in international treaties, including the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit deal.
Withdrawing from the convention drafted by the Council of Europe, which Winston Churchill helped found after the Second World War, would also risk damaging the UK’s reputation on the world stage.
The UK’s membership of the ECHR was unaffected by Brexit, as neither the Convention nor the Court are creations of the European Union.
A full High Court review of the plan is expected in July, but Downing Street has hinted a new flight to Rwanda could go ahead before the court case is complete.