Rishi Sunak Says Small Boats Plan Does Not Break International Law Ahead Of Summit With "Friend" Macron
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron (Alamy)
Rishi Sunak has insisted that his plan to tackle small boat crossings is compliant with international law, ahead of a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
Speaking to reporters on his way to France this morning, the PM said that ensuring the legislation announced earlier this week does not breach the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) was why it had "taken a bit of time to get it right".
Home Secretary Suella Braverman this week suggested that the Illegal Migration Bill may not comply with the ECHR, prompting accusations that the government planned to break international law in its bid to stop people making the journey across the English channel.
Introducing the legislation to parliament, Braverman said she was "unable to make a statement" that it is compatible with the ECHR, which the UK has been signed up to for over 70 years.
However, Sunak rejected the suggestion that the legislation would breach the UK's treaty commitments.
Asked whether taking the UK out of the ECHR was still an option, the PM said: "I don’t think we need to get into that for the simple reason we worked really hard to come up with a law that is compliant with the ECHR. That’s what’s taken a bit of time to get it right.
"Suella [Braverman] and I have worked hard to get it right so that it does comply with all our international obligations."
Under the plans, people who arrive unlawfully in the UK in small boats will be detained for 28 days before being returned or sent to a country with whom the government has a returns agreement, like Rwanda.
There are questions over the policy how it will work in practice, and ministers have been accused by political opponents of treating refugees inhumanely.
The PM said however the legislation was "tough but fair" and the "compassionate and right thing to do".
“I don’t think it is compassionate or morally right to persist with a situation in which, as we saw off the coast of Italy, people are dying and people are being exploited by criminal gangs," he said.
That answer was in response to a question about Matteo Salvini, the far-right deputy prime minister of Italy, who this week praised the UK's plans for tackling Channel crossings as "harsh but fair".
The meeting of the two leaders on Friday is the first UK-France summit in five years, and comes after a significant improvement in relations between the two countries following several years of post-Brexit acrimony.
High on Sunak's agenda is working together further with Macron to stop small boat crossings, and the pair are expected to agree to greater intelligence sharing and a deal that will see more French police officers monitoring the French coastline.
A fresh UK-EU declaration is expected to fall short of a returns agreement, however, which is what many Conservative MPs had been hoping for.
The PM indicated this morning that he would like to see a returns deal between the UK and the European Union, and that "hopefully" he would be able to discuss it with Macron today.
"I think now post the Windsor framework being agreed my hope is that it opens up other areas of constructive engagement and dialogue and cooperation with the EU," the PM said.
Sunak described France as a "close friend" of the UK and said it had been "great actually getting to know Emmanuel over the last couple of months" since arriving in no10 in October.
"It’s not just a neighbour it’s not just an ally, trading partner, it has always been a friend of the UK and it’s better for our citizens, for French citizens, when our two countries are co-operating closely together and that is what today is about," he said.
His remarks mark a clear break from the premierships of Liz Truss, who during the Conservative party leadership contest refused to describe Macron as a friend of the UK, and Boris Johnson, who had a famously difficult relationship with Macron in the years following Brexit.
"All I can do is look forward and my view is having a strong collaborative relationship with with the French with President Macron is a good thing for the country," the PM said.
The summit at the Élysee Palace will be followed later this month by a state visit to France by King Charles and The Queen Consort, which sources on both sides say will be another important moment as London and Paris look to rebuild diplomatic ties.
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