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Get behind my Rwanda asylum plan, Rishi Sunak tells Tories

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Get behind my Rwanda asylum plan, Rishi Sunak tells Tories


  • By Joshua Nevett
  • Political reporter, BBC News

Video caption,

Watch: My patience with Rwanda plan has worn thin – Sunak

Rishi Sunak has urged MPs to back his Rwanda asylum plan, after senior Tories warned him it was doomed to fail.

The PM was forced to call a news conference to shore up his authority after Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick quit over the revised policy.

Mr Jenrick said a law aimed at reviving the policy “did not go far enough”.

Mr Sunak said he was wrong – but insisted a Commons vote on the bill next week would not be a matter of confidence in his government.

When asked he if he would throw Tory MPs who defied him out of the party, Mr Sunak said “no”, the vote was about “confidence in Parliament to demonstrate that it gets the British people’s frustration”.

This suggests Tory critics of the Rwanda plan will be able to vote against it without fear of being suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party.

The scheme to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, in east Africa, for processing was first announced by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April 2022.

‘Only approach’

Mr Sunak has made it the most high-profile part of his pledge to “stop the boats”, claiming it will deter people from attempting to cross the English Channel.

But it has been repeatedly delayed by legal challenges and no asylum seekers have been sent to Rwanda from the UK yet.

On Wednesday, the government unveiled the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which is designed to resurrect the policy after the scheme was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court last month.

The bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country and gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

Conservative MPs on the right of the party want the bill to go even further in preventing the possibility of legal challenges under domestic and international human rights laws.

Mr Jenrick resigned on Wednesday over the new legislation, which he described as “a triumph of hope over experience”.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the law would “fail” in its current form, and warned the Conservative Party risked “electoral oblivion” unless it changed course.

But Mr Sunak insisted the Safety of Rwanda Bill was the “toughest immigration law ever”, which “blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off”.

At his Downing Street news conference, Mr Sunak insisted the new law was the “only approach” that would successfully prevent further legal challenges stopping flights taking off to Rwanda.

Mr Sunak said if the government went any further in disregarding human rights law in the legislation, Rwanda would abandon the deal.

“Going any further would mean that Rwanda would collapse the scheme and then we’ll have nowhere to send anyone to – and that is not the way to get this going,” Mr Sunak said.

“So what everyone should do is support this bill.”

With some Tory MPs in open revolt over the direction of the policy, Mr Sunak is facing questions over whether he can win a vote to support the passage of the bill in Parliament.

A government can designate a key vote as a confidence matter. This is a means of putting pressure on MPs to vote with the government on a specific issue.

It is a high-risk tactic, as the loss of such a confidence vote can trigger a general election. But Mr Sunak indicated we would not play this card.

At the news conference, Mr Sunak was asked if he was telling Tory MPs to “back me or sack me”, a phrase used by former Tory Prime Minister John Major when he faced a leadership challenge in 1995.

Mr Sunak did not answer the question directly but said his “patience with this has worn thin”.

“We’ve got to end the legal merry-go-round that has blocked us from getting our Rwanda scheme up and running,” he said.

Mr Sunak said “the real question is for the Labour Party”, which has pledged to scrap the Rwanda policy if it wins the next election, casting doubt over its long-term future.

The prime minister said: “The question is for everyone else, and crucially the Labour Party, what’s their plan? They are going to vote for this legislation?”

The goading of Labour, and the impromptu news conference, suggests the prime minister has realised the political danger that lies ahead for his government.

There are some suggestions Conservative MPs might try to trigger a confidence vote in Mr Sunak’s leadership.

Some other Conservatives believe the party’s unruliness might compel Mr Sunak to call a general election earlier than expected.

The prime minister’s press conference does not seem to have done much to calm tensions in his party.

A group of Tory right wingers are taking legal advice on the bill before deciding whether to back it, or move against it next week.

The One Nation group of Tory MPs, seen as moderate, have also employed a lawyer to examine the legislation.

The task of steering the bill through Parliament falls to Michael Tomlinson, who was appointed illegal migration minister on Thursday.

He will work alongside Tom Pursglove, the minister for legal migration, after the prime minister split Mr Jenrick’s vacant role in two.



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