UK's Conservatives promise an end to deficit by 2020, Human Rights Act repeal

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Image: HM Treasury.

Senior politicians in Britain's Conservative Party pledged today to scrap the Human Rights Act, freeze fuel duty until 2015, and clear the UK's deficit by 2020.

In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said: "Provided we can find the savings to pay for it, I want to freeze fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament." The fuel duty rise had been scheduled for next September. This announcement follows a similar cancellation of a planned fuel duty rise in the Chancellor's March Budget which would have come into force in September.

Party aides said the plan would save motorists £750m a year, with petrol prices 20p a litre cheaper than they would have been if plans by Labour had been followed. Edmund King from The Automobile Association welcomed the announcement on fuel duty, but said: "it is worth remembering that every time there is a spike in fuel prices, the Chancellor brings in money due to the 20 per cent VAT [Value Added Tax] rate on petrol and diesel. This is not exactly a give-away, as even with a duty freeze the Chancellor is still raking in approximately 60 per cent of the pump price in duty and VAT."

Osborne also announced that he intends to end the deficit by 2020 and wants to keep the nation's finances at a surplus. This would be accomplished by a new round of cuts after the election amounting to £25 billion.

"So I can tell you today, that when we’ve dealt with Labour's deficit, we will have a surplus in good times as insurance against difficult times ahead. Provided the recovery is sustained, our goal is to achieve that surplus in the next parliament. That will bear down on our debts and prepare us for the next rainy day. That is going to require discipline and spending control."

Osborne's speech also stated that the government intends to continue with reforms to the welfare system and to require those who have been unemployed for more than two years to take part in work placements in order to get benefits: "They will do useful work to put something back into their community; making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, working for a local charity."

Labour MP and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, said Osborne's fuel duty plans were "panicky" and an "aspiration" without funding. Reeves said of Osborne's plans regarding the deficit: "nobody will believe a word he says".

Theresa May, Home Secretary.
Image: Home Office.

Home Secretary Theresa May told the conference that the next Conservative Party manifesto will commit to repealing the Human Rights Act 1998, backing a statement to the same end made by Prime Minister David Cameron in an interview over the weekend.

May argued that European human rights law had prevented the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan, and that the guarantee of a "right to a family life" had become a "free-for-all" for appeals against deportation. In addition to repealing the Human Rights Act, May raised the possibility of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) altogether. "The Conservative position is clear. If leaving the European convention is what it takes to alter our human rights laws, that's what we will do."

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve has expressed caution about plans to repeal the Human Rights Act or leave the ECHR, saying it "could be interpreted as a sign that Britain is not interested in creating a better world".

"If we leave it then we have to take the international reputational consequences of doing so."

The Conservatives have also faced questions about their relationship with the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, attended the Conservative conference and raised the question of deals between UKIP and the Conservatives at a local level. A number of Conservative MPs have said that the Conservatives and UKIP should work together during the election including Bill Cash, Douglas Carswell, and Peter Bone.

Senior leaders in the Conservative Party have rejected any suggestion of working closer with UKIP. George Osborne said: "The only candidates who will stand for the Conservative party at the election are Conservative candidates – a sort of statement of the obvious."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson joked of the UKIP deal suggestions: "you kip if you want to, David Cameron's not for kipping".