Britain should remain in the EU but withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Theresa May has declared. The Home Secretary made the controversial proposal during her first major speech of the EU referendum campaign in central London on 25 April.

"The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia's when it comes to human rights," the top Conservative warned. "If we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn't the EU which we should leave, but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court."

May wants the UK to establish its own Bill of Rights, which would be enacted by parliament and include a right to trial by jury. "Human rights were not invented in 1950," May said in reference to when the treaty was first drafted. "This is Great Britain – the country of Magna Carta."

The Home Secretary stressed that the ECHR, which has force in the UK under the 1998 Human Rights Act, was separate to the EU and the European Court of Justice. But it is unclear whether withdrawal from the treaty would effect a state's membership of the EU.

"The rights secured by the Convention are among the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In the negotiations for the accession of new Union members, respect for the Convention and the case‑law of the European Court of Human Rights is treated as part of the Union acquis," the European Commission said in 2007.

"Any member state deciding to withdraw from the Convention and therefore no longer bound to comply with it or to respect its enforcement procedures could, in certain circumstances, raise concern as regards the effective protection of fundamental rights by its authorities. Such a situation, which the Commission hopes will remain purely hypothetical, would need to be examined under Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on European Union."

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'Breach Good Friday Agreement'

Legal experts have also warned that breaking away from the ECHR would breach the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) warned repealing the Human Rights Act would be a flagrant breach of the GFA.

"The GFA guarantees that the British government will ensure 'incorporation into Northern Ireland law' of the ECHR," the organisation said in 2015.

The development comes after May argued that the UK's membership of the EU makes Britain safer. "Remaining in the EU does make the UK more secure, prosperous and influential beyond our shores," she claimed. The Home Secretary also warned a Brexit could trigger another Scottish independence referendum.

"The people of Scotland to think that English Eurosceptics put their dislike of Brussels ahead of our bond with Edinburgh and Glasgow," May argued. "I do not want the EU to cause the destruction of an older and much more precious union, the union between England and Scotland."

Latest EU referendum opinion polls

DatePollsterRemainLeaveUndecidedMethod
16-19 AprComRes51%40%9%Telephone
16-18 AprIpsos MORI49%39%8%Telephone
15-17 AprICM43%44%13%Online
13-17 AprORB53%41%11%Telephone
12-14 AprYouGov40%39%16%Online
7-11 AprTNS35%35%30%Online
8-10 AprICM42%45%12%Online
6-7 AprYouGov40%38%16%Online