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Suella Braverman Says Tories Face "Electoral Oblivion" If Rwanda Legislation Doesn't Meet Five Tests


5 min read

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has set out five key tests that Rishi Sunak's emergency Rwanda legislation must meet if the Prime Minister is to retain the support of MPs on the right of the Conservative party, of whom she is a figurehead.

"Firstly, the Bill must address the Supreme Court's concerns about the safety of Rwanda," she told the House of Commons.

"Secondly, the Bill must enable flights before the next election by blocking off all routes of challenge. The powers to detain and remove must be exercisable not withstanding the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR], the Refugee Convention and all other international law.

"Thirdly, the bill must remedy deficiencies in the illegal migration act to ensure that removals can take place within days rather than allowing individual claims and challenges which drag on for months.

"Fourth, the Bill must enable the administrative detention of illegal arrivals until they are removed. Fifth, Parliament must be prepared to sit over Christmas to get this bill done".

Braverman said her party faced "electoral oblivion" if the new legislation failed to "stop the boats", but admitted that while she was in favour of leaving the ECHR, she acknowledged this may not be tenable within the required timescale. 

"I accept that the government won't do that [leave the ECHR]. And that it is a debate for another day. And crucially, when it comes to stopping the boats now, leaving the ECHR is not the only way to cut the Gordian knot," she said. 

Government has not yet confirmed detail of “emergency” legislation but Braverman told MPs she had been assured it was imminent. Sunak has promised to push through changes that would allow them to enact plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, after the initial proposals were ruled as unlawful. 

Home Office minister Chris Philp insisted to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday that the legislation would be put before the Commons in  "days, not weeks", following a Home Secretary James Cleverly's signing of a treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday which guaranteed refugees would not be sent to unsafe countries. 

Braverman has previously said that Sunak has “failed to prepare any sort of credible Plan B” in lieu of getting the Rwanda scheme running, and accused him of having “no real intention of fulfilling your pledge to the British people”. 

MPs on the right of the party gathered in Parliament on Tuesday night to discuss their planned response to the Rwanda legislation. There are concerns among a number of Tories that Sunak's proposals will not be robust enough, while Downing Street remains committed to devising a plan that can overcome legal roadblocks. 

A senior Conservative source told PoliticsHome that around 30-40 MPs attended the meeting of influential Conservative groups including the European Research Group, the Common Sense Group, and the The New Conservatives, and said that it was “very successful”. They insisted that the legislation has to be watertight against further Supreme Court challenges, after judges previously ruled it breached human rights laws.

“The wording has got to be absolutely spot on to have the desired effect. In other words, it's got to make sure that the objections that were identified in the Supreme Court judgement can't be repeated,” they said. 

In November, the Supreme Court backed an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal that the scheme might break international law because it could potentially breach the rule that asylum-seekers cannot be sent back to their country of origin if their life is at risk.  

On Tuesday night, ERG (European Research Group) chairman Mark Francois told Sky News it would be “unwise” to bounce MPs into backing the plans and that the group planned to convene its so-called "star chamber" of lawyers to scrutinise the legislation. The group was instrumental in obstructing former prime minister Theresa May's proposals for Brexit. 

“They will then examine the Bill in detail to look at the question of whether it fully respects parliamentary sovereignty and whether it contains unambiguous wording that would facilitate planes taking off to Rwanda,” Francois added.

One Conservative MP told PoliticsHome that the Cabinet is not “set up to do the right thing” on illegal migration. 

"Without an actual policy on Rwanda that is going to work, it's just pissing in the wind," they said. 

"He's [Sunak] not someone with any experience of running anything and it shows. The Cabinet isn't set up to do the right thing by the country. That's a fundamental problem."

But as well as appeasing those on the right of the party, Sunak must ensure any legislation is accepted by those at its centre, who have warned the government should “think twice” before making changes that could overrule the European Convention on Human Rights.

PoliticsHome reported last month that membership of the One Nation caucus has grown to 106 in recent months, as MPs challenge the right of the party on issues such as immigration in particular. 

One Nation chair Damian Green said on Tuesday that the group will be “examining the new amendments to the Migration and Economic Development Partnership extremely carefully”. 

“The Government should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and HRA and not rush such long term, difficult decisions,” he added. 

The Times reported on Wednesday that Sunak has settled on an approach that would not mean opting out of the ECHR, however Conservative MPs told the paper that he could keep the right of the party on side by disapplying sections of the Human Rights Act. 

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