POLITICS
01/06/2015 07:48 BST | Updated 01/06/2015 15:59 BST

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond Says Britain Will Stick With The European Convention on Human Rights

Stefan Wermuth/PA Wire
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said today Britain would remain in the European Convention on Human Rights when it establishes a British Bill of Rights. PA

Pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights is "not on the table", Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said amid a reported Cabinet fall-out over one of its flagship policies.

Ministers yesterday repeatedly denied a rift at the heart of Government after the Daily Telegraph reported Prime Minister David Cameron has ruled out withdrawing from the convention.

This is despite opposition from Home Secretary Theresa May and Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, who believe shedding the edict is the only way to give domestic courts supremacy over Strasbourg.

The Government policy is to establish a British Bill of Rights, ditching the Human Rights Act in the process, and the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman insisted ministers were four-square behind the policy.

But the Foreign Secretary's comments were the clearest signal that severing Britain's ties with the convention would not be considered.

He was questioned in the Commons by SNP MP Alex Salmond, the party's foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, who asked whether Mr Hammond would "support this country's withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights".

The Foreign Secretary replied: "That is not the proposal on the table - the proposal as you know is to ensure that our obligations in respect of compliance with the human rights agenda are overseen by judges in this country in the context of what is happening in this country.

"The Justice Secretary is looking now at how best to deliver that in a way that is acceptable to the British people and compliant with our obligations under international law."

Earlier, George Osborne dismissed the reports of a "split". Speaking at a business event in the Midlands, the Chancellor said: "There's no dispute or division on our party on that question."

His comments followed a firm rebuttal from Downing Street, making clear the position set out in the Conservative Parry manifesto remained.

Asked if the Prime Minister had ruled out withdrawal from the Convention, his official spokeswoman said this morning: "The Prime Minister's position on what needs to happen on human rights is set out very clearly in the Conservative manifesto ... making the Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter on human rights in the UK. The Conservative manifesto is the basis for the Government approach in this area."

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Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Michael Gove think Britain has to withdraw from the European convention

The Government wants to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.

But there remain questions over whether this can be achieved without withdrawing entirely from the European convention.

Former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last year proposed withdrawing from the convention if a looser relationship with Strasbourg could not be trashed out.

But the Tory manifesto only pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, a more modest proposal.

The position adopted by the Prime Minister appears to be that Britain can remain a signatory to the convention but replace the Human Rights Act.

Some cite the fact the German constitutional court takes precedence over Strasbourg, even though Berlin is a full signatory to the convention, as evidence this is possible.

A Downing Street source told The Huffington Post UK: "Our manifesto pledge on scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with British Bill of Rights is absolutely clear and everyone in Government is signed up to it.

"Michael Gove is still working on detailed proposals which will be published in due course."

And Employment Minister Priti Patel told Sky News this morning: “I can categorically say that there is no row and that we are committed, as the Prime Minister said last week when responding to the Queen’s Speech, that we are committed to delivering a British Bill of Rights. That is something that we will do.”

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Employment Minister Priti Patel denies Government split

The absence of a proposed for British Bill of Rights from last week's Queen's Speech - which was seized on by some critics as evidence that the policy was in trouble - underlined the tricky balancing act the Government is attempting.

While adamant it wants reform, a majority of just 12 means it cannot risk alienating strong advocates of civil liberties in its party, known as the "Runnymede Tories".