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Tory right warns Sunak that Rwanda plan ‘simply doesn’t work’ without changes

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face a battle with his own MPs demanding stronger legislation to send migrants to Rwanda.

David Hughes
Wednesday 10 January 2024 20:07 GMT
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is braced for a battle with the right of his party (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is braced for a battle with the right of his party (PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak is braced for a Commons showdown over his Rwanda plan after being warned by Tory MPs that the proposal will not work unless it is significantly beefed up.

As the right wing of the Conservative Party gears up for a parliamentary battle, the Prime Minister was warned by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick that the plan “simply doesn’t work” in its current form.

Dozens of right-wing Conservatives are backing amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill aimed at effectively ignoring international law and to severely limit individual migrants’ ability to resist being put on a flight to Kigali.

Mr Jenrick refused to say whether he would vote for the legislation if it is not rewritten.

“This is the third piece of legislation in three years, it’s three strikes or you’re out, we’ve got to get this right,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

The measures Mr Jenrick and his allies are pushing would end what he called the “merry-go-round of individual claims whereby illegal migrants claim every possible defence in order to frustrate their removal to Rwanda” and would prevent flights being grounded by emergency injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights.

The Government’s Bill and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to make the scheme legally watertight following a Supreme Court ruling against the plan.

As part of the plan to deter small boat crossings of the English Channel, ministers want to be able to send migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda, where they will be able to seek asylum in the African nation.

But Mr Jenrick said: “(The) Government’s reported legal advice is that the Bill has a 50% chance at best of getting a single flight off to Rwanda before the general election.

“When the stakes are so high for the country I don’t think that’s acceptable. We need to make sure it’s much more rigorous than that.”

Mr Jenrick said the amendments aimed at toughening up the Rwanda Bill are in line with international law, one of the tests set by Mr Sunak for any changes as the Kigali government has warned the deal could fall apart if the UK breaks international conventions.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman, who backs the changes put forward by Mr Jenrick and Sir Bill Cash, said: “To not adopt these amendments, and introduce another failing Bill, will be a betrayal of the British people.”

Writing in the Daily Mail, she said: “As drafted, this Bill will not stop the boats.

“The Government’s own lawyers have also reportedly advised that the scheme, as currently laid out, is fundamentally flawed. They rightly conclude that it will be bogged down with individual legal challenges from migrants.”

Conservative former minister Jonathan Gullis told Sky News: “If this Bill is weakened at any stage in the Commons or weakened in the Lords when it comes back to us through the process that we go through, I will then vote against this legislation.”

Mr Sunak has said he would welcome “bright ideas” on how to improve the Bill, but has previously insisted it already strikes the right balance.

The scheme has cost £240 million so far, with a further £50 million committed for next year, but so far not a single asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda due to the legal challenges.

The legislation seeks to enable Parliament to deem Rwanda “safe” generally but makes limited allowances for personal claims against being sent to the east African nation under a clause disliked by Conservative hardliners.

Number 10 on Wednesday said that all amendments would be considered, with a “whole series of engagements” taking place “consistently” with MPs.

But accepting measures from the right of the party would risk angering the centrist One Nation wing, who want to ensure international law is respected.

Centrist former deputy prime minister Damian Green said the Prime Minister had assured him the Bill would not be strengthened.

“The Prime Minister’s looked me in the eye and said that he doesn’t want to go any further” and potentially break international law by ignoring its human rights obligations, he told the New Statesman.

Meanwhile, charities raised concerns about the plan with MPs and peers examining the human rights implications of the Bill.

Answering questions from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday afternoon, the Refugee Council’s head of public affairs and policy Beatrice Stern said: “It’s our view that the Rwanda plan won’t actually deal with the problem of the backlog of people that are already in the country and will continue to come.”

The legislation cleared its first Commons hurdle last year despite speculation about a major rebellion by Tory MPs.

But while it was originally billed as emergency legislation that would be rushed through the Commons, its passage has been slowed because of the wrangling with Tory MPs.

Even if it clears the Commons next week it will face an uphill battle in the Lords.

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