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Last-ditch plea for ministers to pull Rwanda legislation amid Tory splits

12 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Home Secretary James Cleverly during a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of the new treaty in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Ministers faced a last-ditch Tory plea to pull their Rwanda asylum legislation amid warnings it will be “inoperable and ineffective” without amendments.

Conservative MPs on differing wings of the party made clear their concerns over the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, with some pressing for the Government to go further while others warned against such a move.

The Bill seeks to revive the stalled deportation plan by attempting to prohibit legal challenges based on the argument that Rwanda is unsafe.

It allows ministers to disapply the Human Rights Act but does not go as far as overriding the European Convention on Human Rights, something which Tory hardliners have urged.

Unsatisfactory

Danny Kruger (Devizes), co-founder of the New Conservatives made up mainly of MPs elected since the 2016 Brexit referendum, told the Commons: “I regret we’ve got an unsatisfactory Bill, I can’t undertake to support it tonight, I hope the Government would agree to pull the Bill and allow us to work with them and colleagues across the House to produce a better Bill – one that respects parliamentary sovereignty and also satisfies the very legitimate concerns of colleagues about vulnerable individuals.

“I think we can do better on safe and legal routes, for instance. We should be working together with other countries to design a system that respects the sovereignty of Parliament and the legitimate rule of independent nations.”

Conservative former cabinet minister David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group, said he wanted to hear the Government say it is open to amending the Bill.

The MP for Clwyd West added: “At the moment, there are numerous deficiencies that have been identified in the report of the so-called star chamber that will, I believe, render this Bill inoperable and ineffective.

“The last thing we want to do as a House is to expend a lot of time and a lot of agony over putting in place a Bill that doesn’t result in the flights to Rwanda and the deterrence that we need to illegal migrants.”

Sophistry 

Tory former immigration minister Robert Jenrick said he wants the Bill to work but accused the Government of “sophistry”, suggesting it may not empower ministers to ignore attempts from Strasbourg to block flights carrying asylum seekers.

He said ministers must have the “full power of Parliament” to ignore injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights, but suggested the Government’s plan would not deliver that outcome.

In accusing the Government of sophistry, Mr Jenrick appeared to be suggesting he believed the part of the Bill relating to ignoring interim injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights is deceptive.

In 2022, the Strasbourg court granted an injunction, via Rule 39, which effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

Mr Jenrick said: “It is inevitable… in light of the Supreme Court’s judgment, that the Strasbourg Court will impose further Rule 39 interim measures… We have to stop that; it is a matter of sovereignty for our country that ministers acting on the instructions of Parliament do not allow those flights to be delayed.

“The provision in the Bill is sophistry. It is the express policy of the Government that Rule 39 injunctions are binding and to ignore them would be a breach of international law.

“So, we are being asked to vote for a provision which it would be illegal to use.”

Disservice

He said he does not want ministers “to be in that position”. adding: “We as a House are giving them a hard deal. We are doing them a disservice if we allow the Bill to continue in that way. They must have the full power of Parliament to ignore those Rule 39 injunctions and to get those flights in the air.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly had earlier told the Commons: “Where the European Court of Human Rights indicates an interim measure relating to the intended removal of someone to Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of the Immigration Act, a minister of the Crown – not a court, or a tribunal – a minister of the Crown alone will decide whether the UK will comply with that interim measure.”

Elsewhere in the debate, Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the Commons’ justice committee, said he would vote for the Bill but would not support it in future if changes from the Tory right were accepted.

Bromley and Chislehurst MP Sir Bob told MPs: “After a good deal of hesitation I shall support this Bill tonight, but it is a hesitation that has been real, because for me it goes as close to the wind as one can constitutionally do.”

He added: “If it were to change and any of the safeguards that have been left in to be removed, then my support would go, because some people would then have pushed it over the line into the unacceptable and, in my judgment, the unconservative, and then I would not support it.”

Conservative former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox advised colleagues that the Bill would “collapse” if they removed the right of individuals to access a court.

Sir Geoffrey told the Commons: “If we eliminate it entirely, not only would this Bill collapse because it will be interminably impeded in the House of Lords, it will probably lead to the Rwandan government withdrawing and it’s conceivable the courts themselves may entertain for the first time a complex challenge of the right of this Parliament to do away with fundamental constitutional principles, such as access to a court.”


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Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
2 months ago

How much more of OUR money are they going to waste on this hairbrained scheme it is a criminal waste of tax payers money! They would not be so profligate if it was THEIR own money they were chucking down the drain!

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