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Rishi Sunak Insists Rwanda Scheme "Blocks Every Single Reason" For Legal Challenges

Rishi Sunak spoke to a press conference on Thursday morning (Alamy)

4 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has issued a robust defence of the government's emergency legislation on the Rwanda migration scheme, insisting opportunities for legal challenges to the scheme would be "extremely narrow".

Speaking at a last minute press conference on Thursday morning, Sunak defended the government's emergency legislation – published on Wednesday – and claimed that it blocks "every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda".

He confirmed there will not be a no confidence vote in his leadership if his MPs vote against the legislation.

"The Supreme Court were clear that they were making a judgement about Rwanda at a specific moment 18 months ago, that the problems could be remedied," Sunak said.

"Today we are confirming that they have been and unequivocally Rwanda is a safe country. And today's bill also ends the merry go round of legal challenges that have blocked our policy for far too long."

The UK Government faced immediate backlash from the right of the Conservative party when it published its emergency legislation on Wednesday that will allow them to legally call Rwanda a safe country in order to enact their policy to forcibly deport migrants to the country, which the Supreme Court has previously ruled does not comply with international law. 

Rwanda's minister of foreign affairs Vincent Biruta responded by saying his country would not have been able to continue with the deal to allow the UK to forcibly deport asylum seekers to the African country unless the UK complied with "lawful behaviour".

At Thursday's press conference, Sunak said that it was important to remember that Parliament is "sovereign" and "should be able to make decisions that cannot be undone in the courts".

Listing ways that the new bill will prevent flights to Rwanda being stopped, he said it would end abuse of modern slavery rules and dispel the idea that Rwanda is not safe.

"This bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off," he said.

Sunak addressed detractors who continue to refuse to support the bill over its retention of provision for migrants to legally challenge deportations to Rwanda. "The only extremely narrow exception will be that if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm," he said. 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned on Wednesday night citing "strong disagreements with the direction of the government's policy on immigration" after it published emergency legislation in a bid to salvage its Rwanda asylum plan.

His departure follows speculation that he would leave if the delayed Rwanda asylum policy did not take the most hard-line option to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Today Sunak doubled down on the government's position in the face of criticism from Jenrick and other MPs, saying it was important for the UK government to "play by the roles".

"Illegal Immigration undermines not just our border controls it undermines the very sense of fairness that is so central to our national character," he said.

"We play by the rules, we put in our fair share, we wait our turn. Now if some people can just cut all of that out, you've not just lost control of your borders, you fatally undermine the very fairness upon which trust in our system is based."

Asked by reporters whether he will call an election if he loses votes on the new bill, Sunak did not directly answer.

"What's happening here is we're delivering on what I said," he said, appearing increasingly rattled.

He continued by calling on his own MPs and the Labour Party to support the legislation, and insisted he wanted to "finish the job".

"What everyone should do is support this bill, and crucially [for] the Labour Party the question for them is are they going to support this legislation?," he said.

"Because we want to get it up and running as quickly as possible so we can finish the job, have a deterrent and stop the boats. That's what I'm committed to doing, that's what the team is committed to doing, and we're going to make sure that we see it through."

Backbench Conservative MPs appear divided over whether the Government’s new asylum deal with Rwanda will cut illegal migration.

A former cabinet minister told PoliticsHome they felt that the Prime Minister was “running out of time”. “I can’t see how he fixes this,” they added.

A senior MP on the right of the Conservative Party, who wanted to take what has been dubbed a "full fat" approach, said they were unhappy with part of the bill – section four – which says individuals can launch individual legal challenges against their deportation. 

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