May risks coalition rift with new human rights attack

By Ian Dunt

Theresa May issued another demand for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped this morning, threatening a rift in the coalition.

The remarks will be interpreted as a calculated attack on the Liberal Democrats, after Nick Clegg told party activists in Birmingham that the Act "is here to stay".

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph the home secretary insisted the Act was obstructing efforts to deport terrorist suspects and needed to be scrapped.

“I’d personally like to see the Human Rights Act go because I think we have had some problems with it,” she said.

“I see it, here in the Home Office particularly, the sort of problems we have in being unable to deport people who perhaps are terrorist suspects. Obviously we’ve seen it with some foreign criminals who are in the UK.

“We’re not standing still on this issue, we are actually looking at what can be done.”

Labour said Ms May's comments showed government policy was "a shambles".

"Someone in the government now needs to be clear exactly what the policy is," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said.

"Either the deputy prime minister has been overruled or this is another fantasy policy from Theresa May."

A commission established to investigate the possibility of a British bill of rights to replace the Act will report by the end of next year but opponents of the legislation are likely to be disappointed by its findings.

The commission reports to Nick Clegg and Ken Clarke, two firm supporters of the Human Rights Act, and is populated with lawyers who are unlikely to recommend major change.

“There isn’t the faintest chance of the present government withdrawing from the Convention on Human Rights,” Mr Clarke said recently.

Ms May has raised her opposition to the Act – particularly article eight, which guarantees the right to family life – several times and pushed for new interpretations of the clause at a European level and in the Home Office.

Any substantive change to the Act could threaten the existence of the coalition. Mr Clegg has put his reputation on the line pledging its continuation and energy secretary Chris Huhne has said he would step down from government is it were to be scrapped.