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What Do The Tory Right Actually Want On Rwanda?

Rishi Sunak gave a press conference defending his Rwanda legislation on Thursday (Alamy)

7 min read

Rishi Sunak had hoped to keep the right and moderate wings of his party happy with his emergency legislation designed to enact the government’s plans to forcibly deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

But the backlash from the Tory right to Sunak's emergency legislation that seeks to rule that Rwanda is a safe country in order to prevent further legal challenges was both fierce and immediate. 

In particular some Tory MPs object to the fact that the bill retains provision for asylum seekers to launch individual legal challenges to their deportation to Rwanda, despite the fact that Sunak argues the legislation otherwise blocks "every single reason" that could justify such challenges. 

The Rwandan government has said it could not continue to work with the UK on the policy if it is not legally compliant, meaning including at least some scenario in which asylum seekers could challenge their deportation is necessary to avoid breaching international human rights agreements such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

This leaves the UK government in a bind – if Sunak meets his party's demands, Rwanda may pull out of the deal, but unless he does, the bill faces defeat by rebels in the Commons next week. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has already resigned over the matter. 

So what does the Tory right want Sunak to do now? Here's what the government has said it intends to do on Rwanda, how the rebels have reacted, and what could happen next:

What has the government put forward? 

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was published on Wednesday, and if passed it would give Government the ability to unilaterally declare Rwanda a safe country, even if interpretation of international law might suggest otherwise. They argue this would allow them to avert further legal challenges to the Rwanda policy and press ahead with sending asylum seekers to the African country.

The policy is central to the Prime Minister's promise to stop illegal small boat crossings in the Channel, one of his five pledges for government. 

The legislation would give ministers the power to overrule some human rights laws, while retaining provision for individuals to challenge their deportation on limited grounds, which the Rwandan government has said is essential to their continued participation in the scheme.

How has the right of the Conservative Party reacted?  

A number of MPs do not believe the legislation will succeed in stopping the boats, one of five key tests laid out by Tory right figurehead and former home secretary Suella Braverman in the Commons yesterday. 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, a former Sunak ally, resigned over the plans, and said that the public “rightly demands and expects” ministers to stop small boat crossings. 

“We must truly mean that we will do ‘whatever it takes’ to deliver this commitment when we say so," he wrote in his resignation letter. 

“This emergency legislation is the last opportunity to prove this, but in its current drafting it does not go far enough.”

Since the emergency legislation was published, Braverman has warned that the Conservatives are now in a “very perilous position”. 

On Thursday she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that “we need to stop the boats” and “need to deliver on that pledge”. 

“Taken as a whole and looking at the reality of the challenges involved in detaining people and removing people to Rwanda, the reality is that it won’t work. It will not stop the boats,” she added. 

Another senior MP on the right of the Tory party, who wanted the government to take what has been dubbed a "full fat" approach, told PoliticsHome they were specifically unhappy with the part of the bill, section four, which says people can launch individual legal challenges against their deportation.

However, another senior figure on the right of the Tories said the party had “no other choice” but to stick by the Prime Minister and back his new Rwanda plan.

What do they want to happen instead?

Braverman told the BBC she “urge[s] the Prime Minister to change course and change policy” by obstructing the right for individual claims, which she believes will “allow a merry-go-round of legal claims and litigation”. 

The “solution”, she said, is a clause that excludes individual claims “so that we can get decisions made by the Secretary of State to detain and remove and flights off to Rwanda as quickly as possible”. 

Another senior Conservative MP – not considered to be on the right of the party –  conceded that in reality, "nobody will be happy until we see people leaving on planes". 

Speaking to PoliticsHome shortly before the legislation was published, they said while they were in favour of making the Rwanda scheme work, they were insistent that leaving the ECHR would not be a viable solution, especially with a general election on the horizon.

They said it would not do the Conservatives "any favours" to be seen rowing back on human rights – though the published legislation then confirmed the Human Rights Act 1998 would be disapplied.

What has the government said? 

Sunak has issued a robust defence of the legislation, insisting that despite the provision to launch legal challenges, it otherwise blocks "every single reason" for such a case. 

"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 added, in an apparent appeal to detractors. 

In an explanatory note accompanying the legislation, Home Secretary James Cleverly said that he cannot guarantee that the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is compliant with the European Convention of Human Rights, but that ministers intend to proceed with them regardless. 

Addressing the Commons on Wednesday, he described the bill as "lawful [...] fair and [...] necessary" and told MPs that the concerns of the Supreme Court have been "conclusively answered" by the new legislation.

"This is a partnership to which we and Rwanda are both completely committed. Rwanda is a safe and prosperous country, it is a vital partner for the UK and our treaty puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda," he added. 

What happens next?

MPs will have the chance to vote on the legislation in the Commons next week, in what looks to be a critical test of Sunak's leadership and authority, although the Prime Minister has said that it will not be treated as a de facto confidence vote. 

Labour has said the party will vote against the legislation, making Sunak especially vulnerable to rebels in his own party, of whom there are many. As well as the right of the party who don't believe the bill goes far enough, a significant number of moderate Tory MPs have qualms with the bill, in particular its aim to side-step international human rights treaties. 

So far influential groups have not nailed their colours to the mast, with the One Nation caucus, which has an especially large membership, saying they are scrutinising the bill and seeking legal advice. The European Research Group (ERG), best known for repeatedly obstructing Theresa May's Brexit legislation, have issued a similar line. Reducing migration is a key priority for the ERG.

If Sunak loses the vote and the Rwanda plan is held back once again, he could face challenges to his leadership and increased pressure to call a general election. 

Asked by reporters at a press conference on Thursday morning whether he intended to go to the polls 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.

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