Tory right wing ‘very optimistic’ Braverman will toughen asylum bill to block European judges

Rebels expect government to tighten bill to stop European Court of Human Rights blocking deportations

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 27 March 2023 19:03 BST
Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman heckled during visit to Chelmsford

Right-wing Tory MPs are increasingly confident home secretary Suella Braverman will further toughen controversial legislation aimed at cracking down on migrants arriving in small boats.

The home secretary is considering changes to head off a rebellion by up to 60 Tory MPs on the right who want to stop British judges from following decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on deportations.

One senior Tory MP involved in the amendments told The Independent that the group was encouraged by talks with ministers that the bill could soon be tightened to allow British judges to ignore the Strasbourg court’s injunctions.

“We’re working closely together on reaching a position,” they said. “I’m very optimistic. We want the bill galvanised against challenge [by the ECHR]. There is room for compromise here.”

The MP added: “We could have pushed to end all involvement with the European courts and leave the convention. But that’s not a battle anyone wants at the moment.”

Tory MP Martin Vickers, who has backed the amendments, told The Independent: “We’ve got to have much more rigorous control over our immigration. So we’re trying to limit the power [of] European court judges intervening on these matters.”

Sir Bill Cash told the Commons on Monday that he expected ministers to consider a series of amendments so that judges “cannot prevent removal”, adding: “We do not want or need lawyers and judges to invent new blocks on removal with judicial activism.”

Rebel Tory MP Danny Kruger – another leading figure behind the amendments – told BBC Radio 4’s Today earlier that talks with ministers were ongoing. He later told the Commons he hoped there would be no more “pyjama injunctions in the middle of the night” from Strasbourg judges opposing orders.

Senior government figures reportedly believe the home secretary supports the rebel push to stop British judges using legal precedent from Strasbourg when considering deportation cases.

“She wants to use it to spook us to offer concessions to get them to drop their amendments because a big rebellion would be embarrassing,” one told The Times. “She has basically become a sock puppet for the right.”

But a source close to Ms Braverman said the claim was “totally untrue”, adding: “The people spreading scurrilous rumours like this about the home secretary should reconsider and refrain.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman under pressure to change the bill (PA) (PA Wire)

In 2022, the ECHR granted an injunction – via its rule 39 – that effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Ms Braverman said on her recent trip to Rwanda that she was “encouraged” by “constructive” talks with Strasbourg.

The government has requested a higher threshold for any rule 39 injunction on attempted deportation flights. But Ms Braverman is thought to be considering inserting a new clause into the bill banning rule 39 orders from applying in the UK if exemptions can’t be negotiated with the Strasbourg court.

However, Tory moderates and legal experts fear the Strasbourg court cannot be defied without breaching the UK’s obligation to uphold the ECHR.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told The Independent that Ms Braverman should ignore the push from the right. “There is simply no way this bill will secure parliamentary support unless it’s fully compliant with international laws, including our commitments to the ECHR.”

Asked about speaking to Tory MPs seeking to toughen the bill, Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “We will keep seeking to speak constructively with MPs ... We do want MPs to be involved in the process of creating legislation.”

Sunak and Braverman were heckled during visit to Chelmsford on Monday (PA)

Others on the liberal wing want to see Rishi Sunak and Ms Braverman commit to establishing new, authorised safe routes via which asylum seekers can come to Britain.

An amendment proposed by Tim Loughton MP, which calls for new safe and legal routes to be added to the bill, is understood to have the support of Labour. The moderates are optimistic Mr Sunak will announce a new “global” refugee route developed with the UN’s refugee agency.

Mr Loughton told the Commons he would push for a vote on his plans for required safe and legal routes unless there were “substantial reassurances” from the government in the days ahead.

The home affairs select committe chair added: “We want to continue to offer safe haven for those genuinely escaping danger and persecution, and in a sustainable way. That’s why safe and legal routes is the obvious antidote to that problem.”

Under plans reported by The Telegraph, MPs would vote on an annual cap on the number of refugees after councils are consulted about accommodation, with a plan to welcome about 20,000 a year initially.

However, Mr Philp played down suggestions that the government could establish more safe and legal routes for asylum seekers as part of the bill.

The Home Office minister told LBC: “This country has a lot of safe and legal routes established already. In terms of creating more, my own view is that we should fix the illegal immigration problem first, stop the boats ... and then we can add in these additional and safe and legal routes.”

Tory MP Caroline Nokes describes small boats bill as 'absolute horror'

Moderate Tories are also trying to win support for amendments aimed at creating stronger protections against child detention. MPs from across the House have condemned a move in the bill allowing the detention of children – reversing a ban introduced by the David Cameron-led coalition government a decade ago.

Equalities committee chair Caroline Nokes has shared her “absolute horror” at the reversal, while former justice secretary Robert Buckland said the government “shouldn’t be locking children up – it’s not right”.

It comes as Labour propose an amendment that would force the Sunak government to offer a framework for a new asylum returns deal with EU states within three months of the bill passing.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock branded the bill “entirely counterproductive”, telling the Commons that a Labour government would negotiate a returns agreement with the EU to replace the UK’s previous participation in the Dublin system.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, warned MPs and peers to uphold international obligations in a letter to the Commons and Lords.

The commissioner said “the bill’s provisions create clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards”. She said it lacked a guarantee that objections to deportation would be assessed in accordance with the European convention on human rights.

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