Theresa May may have renounced personal attacks in her , but her clarion call to quit the European convention on human rights instead of the European Union will leave Michael Gove spluttering over his lunch.
For the clear implication is that Gove may well be the leader of the “out” campaign but as lord chancellor he has so far failed to make any significant progress in scrapping the and delivering a British bill of rights.
It will not only be Westminster watchers who will quickly conclude that in making this the main headline of her “pro-EU” speech, May is more interested in the future leadership of the Tory party than she is in contributing to the outcome of the referendum campaign.
This is underlined by the fact that she barely touched on the arguments over immigration – despite being the person singly most qualified to deal with the leave campaigners’ claims on that particular issue – while going into the finer details of the capital markets union.
But she manages the remarkable achievement of outflanking from the right by demanding not only a British bill of rights but complete withdrawal from both the European convention and the European court of human rights, which the lord chancellor even in full Brexit mode has not so far committed himself to.
May acknowledges that her rejection of the European convention on human rights – the creation of the 47-member state Strasbourg-based Council of – leaves her open to criticism for remaining signed up to the EU’s court of justice in Luxembourg and its charter of fundamental rights. After all it is the Luxembourg court that has been the main target of Brexit attacks on the human rights front in recent weeks.
She agrees she is no fan of the EU’s court either, but says there are several problems with the Strasbourg human rights court that do not apply to the EU’s Luxembourg court. This mainly involves Strasbourg’s role as a final appeals court enabling it to issue orders preventing deportations or to give prisoners the vote.
In particular she complains that in Strasbourg human rights can trump national security, while in the EU “national security remains the sole responsibility of member states”. Anyway she argues that EU cooperation on security and intelligence, including the European arrest warrant and her own highly successful six-year campaign to share passenger name records on all EU flights, make Britain safer in than out.
May’s claims that the human rights convention, despite being first drafted by UK Home Office officials back in 1950, “adds nothing to our prosperity” will particularly disappoint rights campaigners. As she made her speech they were marking the 38th anniversary of the Strasbourg ruling outlawing the birching of 15-year-old schoolboys in the Isle of Man.
Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU debate on Friday sent hearts soaring in the remain camp. May’s cold, calculated attempt to lead a retreat on human rights as her price for staying in Europe will leave many with a nasty taste in the mouth.