Ken Clarke has issued a strong warning that his retirement from the cabinet and the departure of the attorney general Dominic Grieve must not presage the Conservatives backing the UK's departure from the European convention on human rights.
He said such a move would be unthinkable, adding that the convention was the bedrock of UK values for which Britain had fought the second world war.
In a valedictory interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Clarke also expressed his support for an all-women shortlist for Tory candidates, saying: "We are moving too slowly."
He also said it was up to politicians to dismiss the 'lightweight sloganeering of PR men', an apparent reference to the way in which cabinet ministers are asked to chime in with the government over its implementation of a long-term economic plan.
Clarke resigned from the cabinet voluntarily, saying he was surprised he had survived so long. He said he was confident Britain would be able to renegotiate fresh British terms for UK membership of the EU and expressed doubt that the likely new foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, will want to push for Britain's exit.
In a strong warning to his party, he said: "I personally think it is unthinkable to leave the European convention on human rights. It was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war to protect the values we fought the war for. Now it is a long way from the war, but members of the European council covered by the convention include Russia and Belarus and so on. It is the way we uphold the values we strive for which are the rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all, regardless of gender. The convention is the bedrock of that."
He added: "A slightly absurd debate takes place in this country. We are occasionally taken to the European court in Strasbourg but we win 98% of the cases because of our human rights record. We only lose 2% of cases and all these mad mullahs that the press love to vilify and blame for our terrorist problems – which is a somewhat uncomplicated way of analysing the situation – are thought to win in Strasbourg. Well, we have won all the cases in Strasbourg."
He added: "I cannot imagine this reshuffle is all taking place so we can suddenly decide that the British of all people find the European Convention on human rights a strain to live with and the present bureaucratic society needs to be set free.
"I thought I would retire at the last reshuffle but I stayed on. If you do work beyond the normal retirement age I think you should be prepared to decide you should go before people start scratching their head and think of reasons of getting rid of you".
Clarke said it did not make any sense to keep him on, saying "the point of the reshuffle that looks like the sort of government he wants in the next parliament".
"There needed to be more women in politics. People who are obsessed with the gender balance in the cabinet are slightly superficial."
But he added: "I think it is a pity that my trade is one of the last to get in a serious proportion of women. There have been three women that have left the cabinet for one reason or another. We need a lot more women in the next parliament. I would be personally in favour of all women short lists. I did not used to be but we are going too slowly" .
He said he rejected the neurotic analysis of whether it is a bit more pro-European or a bit more Eurosceptic".
Clarke predicted Britain would stay in the EU, adding :"We are going to get some serious reforms to boost growth jobs and investment. We are going to get sensible reform because I know plenty of reasonable people in Europe that want sensible reform as well comparative decline."
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