David Cameron has threatened to rewrite or scrap the Human Rights Act if it stands in the way of deporting suspected foreign terrorists. The Tory leader accused the Government of being "complacent" in letting the Act, which it passed in 1998, undermine Britain's ability to deal with foreign criminals.
Mr Cameron reiterated a pledge contained in last year's Conservative election manifesto to repeal the Act if it could not be successfully reformed.
Human rights legislation has come under sustained attack this week because of two unrelated cases, one involving a murder by a man who had been released after spending 16 years in prison for rape, and the other involving a group of Afghan hijackers who have been allowed to stay in Britain.
Mr Cameron's intervention has won him support from Britain's biggest selling newspaper, The Sun - a prize coveted by every opposition leader - but could come at the price of undermining his own attempts to change the image of the Conservative Party.
Mr Cameron told yesterday's Sun that it is "close to impossible" to deport foreign nationals who pose a threat to the UK. He added: "It is wrong to undermine public safety by allowing the human rights of dangerous criminals to fly in the face of common sense. The Government's attitude has been complacent. It refuses to recognise that the problem is compounded by the interpretation of the European Convention and the passage of the Government's own Human Rights Act."
A spokesman added later that Mr Cameron's policy could also involve Britain "temporarily" withdrawing from the European Convention, to renegotiate some of its clauses.
The Government is currently negotiating with Middle Eastern and north African countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria to obtain guarantees that any suspects returned there will not be tortured or killed, so that their nationals can be deported without breaching international law.
"If the Government succeeds in its attempts to achieve memorandums of understanding, then so much the better. But if not, we will reform, replace or scrap the Human Rights Act," Mr Cameron said.
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights pressure group Liberty, warned: "The Conservatives will have to decide whether they are going back to being the nasty party, or whether they are the Cameron party. Are they still the civil rights party, as they have been recently when they opposed control orders and ID cards?"
The former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, said: "Cameron seems to have said this for the sake of a headline without thinking it through. You can tear up the British legislation, but that only means that cases will go to the European Court of Human Rights, so it doesn't actually do anything. But if Cameron is saying that Britain is going to withdraw from an international treaty, we will be out of line with every other civilised country."
Nine Afghans hijacked a Boeing 727 in the capital, Kabul, in February 2000 and forced the crew to fly to Stansted, in Essex. …