The government is planning a draft bill introducing limited prisoner voting rights to comply with the European court of human rights, despite fierce opposition from Eurosceptic backbenchers. But embarrassed government ministers are likely to defer the hugely controversial announcement until just before a late-November deadline, allowing it to be made after the police commissioner elections on 17 November.
One government source said: “No party wants to put this in their ‘last week grid’ for these elections. The final decision will be made very late.” The announcement is still causing friction, with one coalition source saying most of the dispute is now “a blue-on-blue row”, within the Conservative party. David Cameron has said it would make him sick to give prisoners the right to vote, but he allowed the then Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper to propose that prisoners serving a sentence of four years or less should be given the right. Harder-line Tory backbenchers, such as Dominic Raab, have argued there is practically no danger of a fine by the European court should Britain not introduce votes for prisoners, and absolutely no chance of the UK being kicked out of the Council of Europe. But the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, has told ministers they have to accept the ruling of the European court in Strasbourg after repeated appeals have failed. Grieve has been an exponent of reform of the court, but not UK withdrawal, saying that would make Britain a pariah state.