David Cameron had to “beat an embarrassing retreat” last week after 86 Tory MPs voted against the government over immigration, says Andrew Grice in The Independent.
Cameron had to rely on Labour and Liberal Democrat votes to beat the rebels, who backed an amendment tabled by Tory MP Dominic Raab aimed at stopping foreign prisoners using the right to a family life (enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights) to stay in Britain. It was defeated by 241 votes to 97.
Lawyers had advised Home Secretary Theresa May that the measure was “incompatible” with the Convention and could result in legal challenges and fewer deportations.
To avoid annoying the rebels, Downing Street ordered ministers to abstain on the grounds that, while Cameron supported the move, he feared it was illegal and unworkable.
May was also accused of trying to “buy off” the rebels with a last-minute amendment to strip foreign-born terrorist suspects of British citizenship, which was approved, says the BBC.
This episode reveals the government to be “a prisoner of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)”, says Ross Clark in The Times. Raab’s amendment won cross-party support.
And Cameron presumably still shares his view that “British democracy would be better off without the ECHR and the Human Rights Act”, which incorporates the Convention into British law. After all, Cameron’s 2010 manifesto promised to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it “with a British Bill of Rights”. The public agrees.
A recent YouGov poll found that 55% were in favour, and only 24% wished to remain within it. The ECHR, which combines a “fundamentalist approach to individuals’ rights with a complete disregard for democratic will”, has become a “millstone around our necks”.
Cameron’s “hysterically devoted supporters” did him no favours by claiming his leadership had been fatally undermined, says Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. Voters may not like divided parties, but neither do they want MPs to be “unquestioning automatons”.
If “conscience and principle are still to be valued”, then disagreement, even rebellion, will happen. The real danger comes from the “pernicious fudged compromises and enforced consensus which make voters feel that no one really speaks for them”.