Boris Johnson’s Bills designed to catch the eyes of right-wing MPs who control his fate

Analysis: All but a handful of Conservative MPs will vote for laws to tear up NI protocol and ignore European Court of Human Rights rulings

A week after Boris Johnson’s government introduced a Bill to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol, it unveiled plans on Wednesday to allow ministers to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. Both Bills have been criticised as evidence of Johnson’s disregard for the rule of law that will damage Britain’s reputation and further poison relations with its neighbours.

Many Conservative MPs share these misgivings but all save a handful will vote for both Bills, some with their fingers crossed behind their backs hoping the Lords will block them. For the prime minister, the most important quality the Bills share is that they appeal to about 70 right-wing Conservative MPs who hold his fate in their hands.

When Johnson faced a no-confidence vote earlier this month, 211 MPs voted in his favour and 148 against. So if even half of the right-wing backbenchers believed to have backed him had switched sides, the result would have gone the other way.

All of the government’s eye-catching initiatives, from the protocol Bill to last week’s attempt to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda and this week’s so-called Bill of Rights, are designed above all to catch those 70 pairs of rolling eyes. John Redwood, a Fellow of All Souls whose manners are so impeccable that he keeps his fierce intelligence permanently concealed from public view, summed up their thinking on Wednesday.


“This parliament is the main guarantor of our rights and liberties; it created them in battles over many centuries for the benefit of us all. Would not this great role be strengthened if our supreme court were indeed supreme and not answerable to foreign courts that do not understand the mood of the British people and what they expect of their legislators?” he asked justice secretary Dominic Raab.

Raab told Redwood he was absolutely correct, adding a little implausibly that he looked forward to discussing these matters with him further. But the Bill of Rights does not withdraw Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights or from the Strasbourg court that blocked the Rwanda flight.

And although the Bill allows ministers to ignore the court’s rulings and allows British courts to filter human rights claims at an early stage, it cannot block appeals to Strasbourg, and some legal experts suggested on Wednesday that it is a recipe for more disputes with the court than before. Like the protocol Bill, which makes a resolution to the protocol dispute with Brussels less likely, the Bill of Rights will probably increase friction with Strasbourg.

Both Bills will take months to pass their parliamentary stages and, in the meantime, the protocol will be implemented as it is now and refugee flights to Rwanda will continue to be blocked.