Northern Ireland

Leaving ECHR over Rwanda scheme ruling would be foolish, says Tory MP

Sir Robert Buckland is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Sir Robert Buckland is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Any move to abandon or ignore the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in response to a Supreme Court ruling over the Government’s Rwanda scheme would be “foolish and rash”, a Conservative MP has said.

Sir Robert Buckland has recently been appointed as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and he said leaving the ECHR would endanger the Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

Sir Robert also insisted that the UK Government cares about the people of Northern Ireland but said the responsibility for restoring the Stormont powersharing institutions primarily lies with political parties in the region.

Some Tory MPs have pushed for legislation to disapply the Human Rights Act and direct courts to ignore the ECHR, after the Supreme Court ruled that a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful.

But Sir Robert said such calls ignored the fact that the ECHR underpins the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of violence and created the Stormont powersharing institutions.

“The ECHR underpins the very fabric of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement,” he told the BBC Sunday Politics programme.

He added: “To ignore that reality in the context of a debate about migration would be to threaten and endanger the Good Friday/Belfast process and once again undermine the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

“I think it would be a foolish or rash move… the wrong step and a very un-Conservative step for colleagues to take bearing in mind it was Conservative lawyers and politicians who helped draft the convention in those years after the war.”

Northern Ireland has been without devolved powersharing for more than a year and a half due to a DUP protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

But Sir Robert rejected claims that Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is not doing enough to break the political impasse.

He said: “The Secretary of State, far from abdicating his responsibility is doing his level best to respect the parameters in which he operates.

“Gone are the days when secretaries of state had untrammelled powers over massive budgets and the sort of direct control over Northern Ireland that the peace process was designed to change.

“I think Chris Heaton-Harris respects those constraints properly.

“I think, like all of us, he is anxious to make sure and to do his part to see a functioning Executive and Assembly in Stormont, that is the answer.

“That responsibility lies with the elected politicians of Northern Ireland, as the devolution settlement dictates.

“It is to them we should be looking first and foremost in order to solve this crisis.”

Cabinet reshuffle
Sir Robert Buckland said Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris was focusing on the lives of ordinary people in the region (James Manning/PA)

Sir Robert continued: “I think, like all of its predecessors, the UK Government does indeed care about Northern Ireland and its future.

“Looking beyond the politicians and the noise of politics, we have got to think about the communities of Northern Ireland who are going about their daily lives doing their very best facing the shared struggles that we do across these islands and looking to politicians of all stripes and colours to come together to help solve them.

“The Secretary of State is rightly focusing upon the reality of lives for ordinary people.”