David Cameron has set himself on a collision course with the European Court of Human rights by inviting MPs to vote against lifting the blanket ban on prisoners voting.
The prime minster told the Commons today that he did not want prisoners to have the vote and he was prepared to allow parliament another chance to block it.
"No one should be in any doubt, prisoners are not getting the vote under this government," he said.
The consequences of the UK ignoring a ruling from the ECHR are unclear, but Attorney General Dominic Grieve suggested Britain could even be thrown out of the Council of Europe.
Appearing before the justice committee this morning, Grieve said: "The issue is whether the United Kingdom wishes to be in breach of its obligations, and what that does reputationally."
"As to what the end game would be, whether it would mean that the United Kingdom decided to leave the Council of Europe, or be expelled from the Council of Europe, I don’t think I would wish to hazard a guess.
He added: "But it is at least technically possible that a country that is in breach of its obligations can be removed."
The Council of Europe, which enforces standards of human rights has 47 member states, is a separate body than the European Union.
Grieve said ignoring the ECHR ruling could prove costly, as prisoners who felt their right to vote was being denied could sue the government. He also said that failing to attempt to enforce the ruling could be a breach of the ministerial code.
The Commons voted by an overwhelming margin of 234 to 22 in February to maintain the blanket ban rather than ease it in line with the judgment.
Tory MPs reacted with horror this morning following reports the government was preparing to introduce a bill that would open the way for some, not all, prisoners to vote.
The Labour Party is also opposed to giving prisoners the vote and has attacked the "ridiculously shambolic" way the government has handled the issue.
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: "The Tory-led government’s sheer confusion this morning over whether prisoners will or won’t get the vote is yet another illustration of the ridiculously shambolic way they are running our country.
"The public will be rightly concerned at reports prisoners could get a vote. If true, thousands of those serving sentences for serious and violent crimes such as wounding, assault and domestic violence would be given a say in who runs the country.
"Instead of the chaos of leaks and spin we’ve seen this morning, the public deserve the truth about the Government’s intentions."
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