The truth behind the Tories' joint ECHR referendum and election claims

The truth behind the Tories' joint ECHR referendum and election claims
Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May 2024 general election
BBC Radio 2

If you’ve already braced yourself for a potential May general election (Rishi Sunak has refused to rule it out), then get ready for a “Super Thursday” where the British public will vote for their next government and whether Britain should leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the same day – if plans reported by the Daily Mail last week are to be believed.

The ECHR has long been a thorn in the side of the Conservatives ever since the first Rwanda deportation flight was cancelled in June 2022, following a last-minute intervention from the Strasbourg court.

In January this year the ECHR warned the UK government it would be breaking human rights law if it ignores orders from the court.

Boris Johnson supporter Andrea Jenkyns (of middle finger fame) previously claimed the “overwhelming majority” of the British public back her call to leave the ECHR, while former home secretary Suella Braverman has been a long-time critic of Strasbourg.

If the UK were to leave the ECHR, it would be in the company of just two other countries: Belarus and Russia.

Make of that what you will…

The Mail reports the plan for a double vote is being led by ex-Tory Party deputy chairman Brendan Clarke-Smith, who alongside Lee Anderson resigned from their positions in order to rebel over the Rwanda bill.

Anna Mikhailova, the Mail on Sunday’s deputy political editor, writes: “The joint referendum-and-election plan is being presented as the only way to avoid a Tory electoral wipeout.

“The calculation is that the Reform voter base, likely to back quitting the ECHR, would know a 'yes' vote would be implemented only by the Conservative Party, whose manifesto would specify that, if re-elected, it would respect the will of the people.”

They also want Boris Johnson to head up the referendum campaign – yes, really.

The proposition has been slammed by Twitter/X users:

But just how likely is it that we’ll have two ballot papers to fill in on a single day?

The Act of Parliament: Lack of support

Just like the EU Referendum Bill/Act which brought about the 2016 Brexit vote, parliament will have to give its backing to a bill in order for the referendum to be called – and that would be reliant on all of the Conservatives’ 52-member strong majority backing a departure from the ECHR.

And that’s pretty unlikely, given the Tory Reform Group – which back in September said the UK “must under no circumstances consider leaving the ECHR” and that its position “is the same as the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs and the British voters” – lists a number of Tory MPs as patrons, including veterans minister Johnny Mercer and security minister Tom Tugendhat.

The Act of Parliament: Limited timescale

As mentioned above, Sunak hasn’t ruled out a May election and many MPs are gearing up for that possibility, but if we are to look at how long it took to get the EU Referendum Bill through parliament, it’s unlikely the law will be in place before the January 2025 deadline for the next election to be called.

The EU Referendum Bill was introduced to the Commons on 28 May 2015, and only received Royal Assent on 17 December that year – and even then, the big vote didn’t take place for several months after that, on 23 June 2016.

So given the timeframe, it’s unlikely we’ll see a double ballot introduced before we have to have the next general election anyway.

The Electoral Commission isn’t keen

In a July 2019 document, the Commission’s Referendums Reference Group wrote: “Our current position on combining elections is that each case should be considered on its merits and a decision taken only after serious consideration of the advantages and disadvantages in each case.

“We have tended to preface that by saying that the balance of the argument is usually against combination.”

Rest assured, we don’t need to worry about Brenda from Bristol

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