Rishi Sunak promised to ‘not go any further’ on Rwanda bill, top Tory claims

Former deputy prime minister Damian Green said the PM ‘looked me in the eye and said he does not want to go any further’

Archie Mitchell
Tuesday 09 January 2024 11:16 GMT
Rishi Sunak should ‘pull the Rwanda bill’ now, says Tory right-winger

Rishi Sunak has promised “not go any further” in strengthening his Rwanda deportation bill, a top Tory MP has claimed.

The prime minister has assured centrist former deputy PM Damian Green that the contested asylum policy will not be toughened up.

It comes amid pressure from right-wing Tory MPs to amend the bill when it returns to parliament to make sure it is “sufficiently robust”.

Mr Sunak’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, deemed illegal by the Supreme Court in November, has split the Tory left and right.

Right-wing MPs are demanding a backup bill, designed to salvage the policy, is strengthened to allow the government to override international laws such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Moderate MPs from the One Nation caucus have threatened to vote the bill down if it risks breaching Britain’s international obligations.

Now Mr Green, chairman of the One Nation caucus of more than 100 Tory MPs, has told the New Statesman: “The Prime Minister’s looked me in the eye and said that he doesn’t want to go any further.

“So I am fairly optimistic.”

Rishi Sunak has apparently assured centrist former deputy PM Damian Green that he will not toughen up the Rwanda policy (Christopher Furlong/PA)
Rishi Sunak has apparently assured centrist former deputy PM Damian Green that he will not toughen up the Rwanda policy (Christopher Furlong/PA) (PA Wire)

But one Tory MP on the right of the party hit back, telling The Independent: “Well he looked us in the eyes and said he was open to discussing amendments to strengthen the Bill.

“I guess time will tell.”

And, in a warning to MPs and ministers agitating for the bill to override international law, he said the centrist caucus would “snap”.

He said: “The Prime Minister’s got within an inch of what I would regard as acceptable. Almost all our members voted for second reading with the clear message of ‘thus far and no further’ and ‘don’t take that extra inch’, which some colleagues of the right of the party want us to do.

“What this Rwanda bill has shown is that actually we are like a piece of elastic that can be stretched and stretched but will, in the end, snap.

“Breaking the law is what snaps it.”

It has also emerged Mr Sunak delayed signing a new deportation treaty with Rwanda last year over fears of “distracting” the Supreme Court.

Home Office ministers were privately pushing to have the plan B treaty in place last summer to start the process of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, the Daily Telegraph reported.

But in Sir James Eadie, the first Treasury counsel who led the Government’s legal defence of the policy, rejected the plans on the grounds it would be a “thoroughly unwelcome distraction” to the Supreme Court proceedings and was “not a good idea”.

“The legal advice was accepted, Number Ten overruled the Home Office, no proper work was done on a Plan B and the Government still lost the Supreme Court case. So they lost six months that they could ill afford,” claimed a Tory source told the Daily Telegraph.

It comes ahead of Labour tabling a vote in parliament calling for the release of documents relating to the policy.

The party will ask for any documents that show the cost of relocating each individual asylum seeker to Rwanda as well as a list of all payments made or scheduled to be made to Rwanda’s government.

It will also ask for the government’s internal breakdown of the more than 35,000 asylum decisions made last year and an unredacted copy of the confidential memorandum of understanding ministers reached with the East African country.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government’s refusal to “come clean” on the cost of the Rwanda scheme is “totally unacceptable”.

Damian Green
Damian Green (ITV / Peston)

“The Conservatives should stop dragging out this chaos and come clean about the real costs and problems,” Ms Cooper said.

“So far costs are apparently rising to £400 million of taxpayers money with more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers sent to Kigali and it is only likely to cover less than 1% of those arriving in the UK.”

It comes after the BBC revealed No10 papers from March 2022, a month before the Rwanda plan was announced by then prime minister Boris Johnson, which showed that Mr Sunak had doubts about the idea.

The documents show he was also concerned about the cost of sending asylum seekers to Africa and wanted to limit the numbers.

Ms Cooper said: “We now know Rishi Sunak had huge doubts about the scheme when he was Chancellor and we’ve heard he tried to cancel it in the leadership campaign.

“It is totally unacceptable that the Conservatives have refused to come clean on the full costs of the failing Rwanda scheme.”

Mr Sunak on Monday stressed the importance of the Rwanda policy and insisted he never said he was going to axe the policy, but did not deny considering it.

He said: “I didn’t say I was going to scrap it. I mean that’s completely false. Of course I didn’t.”

Mr Sunak said it was his job as then chancellor “to ask some probing questions” and scrutinise money spent on taxpayers’ behalf.

But ultimately he backed the policy “because I believe in this scheme”, the Tory leader said, stressing the need for a “deterrent” for illegal immigration.

The bill, which passed a crunch vote in the Commons last month, will likely return to the house for debate this month.

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