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EDITIONS
 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 13:32 GMT
A step too far
Is Tony Blair really ready to walk away from human rights laws?

So Tony Blair is ready to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights if his current crackdown on bogus asylum seekers fails.

Don't believe a word of it. Even for tough talking Tony, this would prove a step too far.

asylum seekers
There have been rising fears over asylum seekers
This is one of the polices, along with the minimum wage, that he regularly trots out to prove how radical his government has already been.

To suggest that he is now planning to be even more radical - and tear it up - is virtually unthinkable.

Not only would it infuriate the rest of Europe it would also land him with a massive backbench rebellion.

Knee-jerk

Many of his own MPs are already deeply unhappy at the measures he has taken to tackle the increase in asylum cases.

They fear the issues of asylum and terrorism are being deliberately linked by some in an attempt to whip up anti-immigration sentiments.

And, like Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, they feel the prime minister is displaying a classic knee-jerk tendency to an issue which is sparking serious concern amongst voters.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith is making headway
They claim Mr Blair is reacting to negative newspaper headlines and desperately attempting to look like he has a grip on the issue.

It is said he is overly concerned by the reactions of a few of his backbenchers, particularly Sittingbourne and Sheppey's Derek Wyatt who has called for just this measure.

At the same time, Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is making headway with this one by claiming that the government has lost control of the asylum system.

He believes the government can simply opt out of bits of the convention - a view fiercely contested by civil rights groups.

Go away

Mr Blair's statement is being seen by many as his way of trying to out-tough the opposition.

He clearly hopes, with some justification, that his existing measures will work and the issue will gradually go away.

What is absolutely certain is that any attempt by Britain to change or opt out of the convention would turn into a long and bitter wrangle

In the mean time, nothing is lost in PR terms by giving the impression that the government is so concerned about the issue it is prepared to consider anything.

Some see this as a highly dangerous tactic because it contributes to an atmosphere of near panic over asylum and immigration - which are regularly lumped together by voters.

Comments from the Home Secretary about people taking the law into their own hands have already added to this atmosphere.

The prime minister's spokesman has insisted that the new measures must be given "a reasonable time" time to take effect before anything more radical is attempted.

What is absolutely certain is that any attempt by Britain to change or opt out of the convention would turn into a long and bitter wrangle.


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26 Jan 03 | Politics
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