Cameron declares war on ECHR as Lib Dems perform vanishing act
Prime Minister set to ignore ruling by 'foreign court' that prisoners should be allowed to vote
DAVID CAMERON effectively declared war on the European Court of Human Rights at Prime Minister's Question Time today - threatening a fresh rift with the Liberal Democrats.
Cameron was cheered by Conservative MPs when he condemned the controversial ECHR ruling ordering Britain to lift its blanket ban on votes for prisoners within six months or risk facing a series of compensation claims which could cost an estimated £143 million.
The PM dismissed the ruling and declared the ECHR a "foreign court". The Prime Minister's tough language and bold two fingers to the court was immediately welcomed by Tory backbenchers but it could cause a fresh rift in the Coalition government, Lib Dem members of whom were conspicuous by their absence from the frontbench today.
And who is the minister responsible for dealing with the court? Step forward Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister who also heads up the Cabinet Office on political and constitutional reform (including voting rights).
Clegg has taken the line in the past that Parliament may find it distasteful to have to give the vote to prisoners but the ECHR ruling must be upheld.
Clegg threw his weight behind ending the ban on prisoner voting rights in 2010. A few months later, the Commons voted massively in favour of keeping the ban, in defiance of an earlier ECHR ruling going back to 2004 under Labour. Cameron today said he wholly supported that Commons decision.
Now Cameron has marched all over the court and Clegg. It will be interesting to see whether Clegg himself comes to the Despatch Box to explain in more detail what the Government's policy is now over the European Court. But, as BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson speculated on Andrew Neil's Daily Politics, he may find himself too busy and send his Cabinet Office junior minister, Mark Harper, as he did in 2010. Harper happens to be a Tory who is more in tune with the Prime Minister's stand.
The rift over prisoner voting rights will be as nothing compared to the row if there is an Israeli first-strike on Iran to stop its nuclear ambitions, though.
Robinson - who is promoting a programme going out tonight on the subject - headlined the BBC News all morning by disclosing that the National Security Council discussed legal and military responses by the UK to an attack on Iran.
One option would be to send what is left of the Royal Navy to try to keep open the oil supply routes through the Strait of Hormuz.
Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem Foreign Office minister confirmed on Daily Politics that his party has been discussing its own policy approach to a strike by Israel. It's unlikely to be entirely in tune with the Tories, but let's face it: if there is a war in the Middle East, hardly anyone will notice.