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Senior Tory Wants To Make The Rwanda Bill Less Of A Legal "Glass Jaw"

Senior Conservative MP Robert Buckland

4 min read

Senior Conservative MP Robert Buckland says his amendments to Rishi Sunak's Rwanda bill will stop the legislation being a "glass jaw" by making it less legally problematic.

Buckland, the former Cabinet minister and member of the One Nation group of moderate Tories, tabled three amendments to the legislation on Wednesday night prior to its return to Parliament next week, and is considering laying further amendments before the Thursday cut-off. 

The legislation, which is central to the Prime Minister's pledge to stop small boats crossings, will be put to further House of Commons votes when it undergoes its committee stage on Tuesday and Wednesday. Conservative MPs are braced for a fresh intra-party row to erupt once it returns, with different wings of the party pushing the government to move in opposing directions. 

More moderate Tories like Buckland have warned Sunak they cannot support any legislation that risked breaking international law – a criticism that has already been levelled at the proposals – while MPs on the right of the party complain the bill does not go far enough to remove the all avenues for migrants to appeal deportation orders.

On Tuesday night, MPs on the right including Robert Jenrick – the former Home Office minister – and leading Brexiteer Bill Cash tabled their own series of amendments to the Rwanda bill, which if passed, would force ministers to go further in overriding the Human Rights Act and European Convention of Human Rights in order to prevent flights to Rwanda being stopped by legal challenges.

Buckland last night tabled what essentially amount to counter-arguments, with the Conservative senior backbencher arguing that his proposals will make it less likely that the government finds itself being challenged over its adherence to international law.

“The legislation in its current form is offering up a glass jaw by saying, ’punch me here’. It is unnecessarily inviting damage by including too many legal issues in the bill," he told PoliticsHome.

He said amendments tabled by Jenrick and Cash, which have around 40 Tory backers including former prime minister Liz Truss and erstwhile home secretary Suella Braverman, would actually weaken the legislation as they would make legal challenge "at the highest level" more likely, creating more difficulty and delay for Sunak in his bid to reduce crossings to zero.

“The amendments put forward by my colleagues would weaken the bill and make legal challenges at the highest level almost inevitable," he said.

Buckland said his "simple" amendments would result in three clauses being removed from the Rwanda bill. One sets out the government's plan to disapply the Human Rights Act to get flights off the ground, while the other compels British courts to essentially ignore interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights relating to deportations.

The third of Buckland's amendments seeks to erase clause one altogether, which he described as "superfluous fluff" that does not belong in a piece of legislation. All of which, however, are key to the Tory's right's demands, leaving Sunak in a somewhat difficult position in appeasing both wings of the party. 

“It’s just bad law. It’s superfluous fluff. You don’t put an introductory statement in law, you put it in a policy document. It just invites more argument in court as to the meaning of words. It’s bad law-making that we should be discouraging," Buckland continued. 

Other One Nation Conservatives including caucus leader Damian Green have said they are prepared to vote for the legislation in its current form, but have warned No 10 that they will withdraw their support if Sunak gives in to the demands of the right of the parliamentary Tory party.

“They need to understand that the One Nation group has had enough," one Conservative back bencher told PoliticsHome earlier this week.

The government has been in regular talks with MPs on both sides of the Rwanda divide in the run-up to next week in a bid to avoid a major rebellion when the legislation is put to a vote. Not a single Conservative MP voted against the bill in December. However, 38 MPs on the right of the party abstained, and warned that they only lent their support at that early stage of the legislative process with the intention of securing changes from ministers in 2024.

An MP on the right of the party told PoliticsHome: "We will try to agree an amendment with [the government]. If we don't, we will go ahead and amend it anyway."

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