The Sunday Telegraph

Sunak lashes out at ‘overreach’ of ECHR judges over net zero


RISHI SUNAK has hit out at the “complete overreach” of an “illegitima­te” ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that imposes a duty on government­s to achieve net zero.

The interventi­on from Downing Street comes ahead of a final round of votes on the Rwanda bill, which could pass by the end of this week, allowing the Government to press ahead with plans for deportatio­n flights. However, there are fears among Tory MPs that the long-awaited flights could yet be thwarted by judges in Strasbourg.

Mr Sunak’s comments will fuel speculatio­n that Mr Sunak is considerin­g including a pledge in the Conservati­ve party’s manifesto to pull out of the ECHR, with sources saying this has not been ruled out.

Last night a No 10 source said: “The PM’s view was that this judgment is a complete overreach and an illegitima­te interpreta­tion of the ECHR text. No doubt about that.”

In the first judgment of its kind, the court ruled that the human rights of a group of elderly Swiss women had been violated by the failure of their government to act quickly enough to tackle climate change. The ruling also applies to the United Kingdom.

Two more Cabinet ministers have made known their dissatisfa­ction with Britain’s involvemen­t in the ECHR, adding their voices to that of Claire Coutinho, the Energy Secretary.

A source close to Steve Barclay, the Environmen­t Secretary, said human rights in Britain “did not begin with the ECHR and won’t end with it either”.

They added: “The government was democratic­ally elected on a mandate to deliver tougher border control and stop small boat crossings. It is a fundamenta­l threat to our democracy if an unelected overseas court is stopping that delivery and Steve has been clear to successive Prime Ministers for several years that leaving the ECHR must be on the table

if it is the only option to uphold that promise to the British people.”

Ms Coutinho has already expressed “concern” that Strasbourg judges were taking decisions best made by elected politician­s. Earlier this week, Strasbourg judges issued a landmark ruling that government­s have a duty to protect people from climate change. Aided by Friends of the Earth, some 2,000 elderly women claimed that the Swiss state was exposing them to an increased risk of death from extreme heat.

A British judge, Tim Eicke, issued the sole dissent, writing: “I fear that in this judgement the majority has gone beyond what it is legitimate and permissibl­e for this court to do, and unfortunat­ely, in doing so, may well have achieved exactly the opposite effect to what was intended”.

The ruling prompted a Tory backlash, with several senior MPs urging Mr Sunak to take Britain out of the ECHR in the wake of the ruling.

The revolt is spreading to the top of the Government, with Cabinet ministers breaking ranks to call for Mr Sunak to bow out of the convention, particular­ly given the difficulti­es it may also pose for implementi­ng the Rwanda policy.

Other MPs, including Robert Jenrick, the former Home Office minister, and Danny Kruger, the co-chairman of the New Conservati­ves group of MPs – have accused the court of acting in a “profoundly undemocrat­ic” way and being “bent out of shape” by “progressiv­e” activists and politician­s. However, the Cabinet ministers opposed to leaving the ECHR are believed to outnumber those in favour by two to one. The remainder are said to be either undecided or to have not disclosed their position to colleagues.

The European court found the Swiss state had breached article eight of the ECHR, which guarantees the “right to respect for private and family life”. The ruling is binding to states that are signatorie­s to the convention, like the UK, and will trickle down to influence the law in 46 countries in Europe, including Britain.

It means individual­s and groups could sue for a breach of their human rights if the UK Government fails to meet its net zero or environmen­tal targets.

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