Rishi Sunak Commons grilling LIVE: Rwanda flights might not take off by summer, PM tells Liaison Committee

·12 min read

Rishi Sunak has suggested that flights to Rwanda carrying illegal migrants might not take off by this summer.

Speaking to the Commons Liaison Committee on Tuesday afternoon, the Prime Minister said that flights to the African country would only take place “once the legal process” has been worked through.

Home Office sources had previously briefed the Telegraph that ministers were “working towards getting the flights off by the summer” and that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would not be ruled out.

The Prime Minister was also quizzed on efforts to end the ongoing junior doctors pay dispute ahead of a planned four-day strike in April.

Mr Sunak said the industrial action called by the BMA could impact on the government’s waiting list target.

He declined to set out how much new funding will be made available for pay rises given to end strikes from NHS workers, saying he “doesn’t want to get in the middle of” negotiations between the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care.

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17:29 , Daniel Keane

That brings the Liaison Committee to a close.

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Northern Ireland ‘needs and deserves power sharing'

17:17 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak says he remains “hopeful that we can continue to have dialogue with all the parties in Northern Ireland”.

Stormont does not currently have a Government as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to join a power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein.

Mr Sunak said that power-sharing is “what the people of Northern Ireland need and deserved”.

"As we come up to the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it's a good reminder of how hard-fought these institutions are and we should give them every chance of succeeding in future."

Sunak: Northern Ireland will have a say on laws

17:05 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak says that the Windsor Framework will enable Northern Ireland to have a say on its own laws.

"The entire thing is subject to a consent vote, so any of this is only there with the overall consent of Northern Ireland," he said in response to Sir Bill Cash.

"Stormont will be able to have its say and will be able to block them."

Brexit will bring economic opportunities, says Sunak

16:50 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked by the SNP whether he believes trade agreements have “little” impact on economic growth and whether they will rebalance the damage caused by Brexit.

He says: “I’m surprised you’re having a go at freeports as we have just announced two with the Scottish Government.

“There are many opportunities from Brexit: trade deals and freeports are among them.”

Sunak refuses to condemn Braverman’s use of ‘invasion’ to describe migrants

16:35 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked about Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s comment that the phrase “institutionally racist” to describe the Met Police is “politically charged” - but not her use of the phrase “invasion” to describe migrants arriving on small boats.

He responds: “The findings of the Casey report are shocking and appalling and it’s right that action is taken.

“It’s clear that the scale of the small boats problem is growing. What I would say is the situation is one that is growing and significant and it’s right that we take action.”

Asked whether the language could inflame the far right, he responds: “What matters are actions and that is what we’re doing.”

Sunak does not rule out leaving ECHR

16:31 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak does not rule out leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if it prevents the Government from enacting its small boats policy.

“We believe our Bill is compliant with the EHCR. That is the Government’s view.”

Sunak: Rwanda policy will only act as deterrent ‘once legal process is completed’

16:28 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked whether the Rwanda policy is acting as a deterrent, with large numbers of people still arriving in the UK on small boats.

He responds: “We need to let the legal process play out. Only after the legal process has been completed that we can practically start the flights to Rwanda. At that moment you will start to see a deterrent.

“But it’s right that we backdated the legislation, as otherwise you’d create a surge of people.”

UK ‘still committed to Afghanistan'

16:21 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked why the UK is cutting aid to Afghanistan as the country suffers under Taliban rule.

He responds: “We are one of the largest spenders on aid anywhere in the world. Our track record on this is very strong.

“With regard to Afghanistan in particular, we are a leading donor and have committed £200m to the country.”

PM: Asylum system must target most vulnerable

16:18 , Daniel Keane

Ms Nokes asks about migrants from Afghanistan who may have been able to come to the UK on the ARAP scheme.

The PM says the Government will be table to talk to those eligible and “bring them here in a safe way”, noting that 22,000 have already come to the UK through the scheme.

“It’s right that we have a migration system and asylum policy that targets our generosity and resources on the most vulnerable, accepting that we will never be able to bring everyone here who would like to be here.”

“At the moment we have tens of thousands of people coming here illegally.”

He declines to comment on a report cited by Ms Nokes on an Afghan man eligible for ARAP who was recently told he will be deported to Rwanda.

Families will not be separated on arrival to UK, Sunak says

16:11 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak says that families will not be separated if they arrive in Britain and that separate accommodation will be available.

Asked how many centres are available to families to stay in, he responds: “At the moment there are a few thousand places and more are being built. A full team at the Home Office is working on the Bill.

“The policy objective is not to detain children, but it’s important that we don’t create a policy that incentivises people to bring children here.

“You create an incentive for a criminal gang to tell people to bring a child with them.”

Sunak claims small boats policy ‘treats people with decency’

16:06 , Daniel Keane

Tory MP Caroline Nokes asks whether children in the care of the Home Office should have protections as children in local authority care.

Declining to answer the question directly, Mr Sunak responds: “I take the welfare of children seriously and it’s important that we are sensitive with this policy. A lot of thought has gone into getting it right.

“Our policy treats people with decency, safeguards children’s welfare but also achieves the objectives we want to achieve which is to break the cycle of criminal gangs and stop people from coming here should not be here.”

PM: Recruiting childminders will take time

15:59 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak says he does not agree that childcare in Britain is “in crisis”.

But he concedes that the money promised in the Budget for childcare may not immediately be available to parents.

“We have more expensive childcare relative to other countries. In terms of the rollout of the extra provision, there will be a rapid increase in funding rate for existing programmes but the reason it takes time is because it takes time to recruit childminders.”

Sunak defends decision to ‘prioritise’ HS2 service between Birmingham and Old Oak Common

15:56 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak defended the Government's decision on HS2 to "prioritise" the initial services between Old Oak Common in west London's suburbs and Birmingham Curzon Street.

It means that services will not stop in Euston in central London for years to come.

"I think it's important that we get the big infrastructure projects right, that we do them properly. They cost a lot of money. It's reasonable that we make sure they're going to be done on budget.

"We're taking the time to make sure it can be delivered within budget and, given inflationary pressures, it's important we get that right.

"We're focusing on this bit of it from Old Oak Common to Euston, let's not forget Old Oak Common to Birmingham, that is a £20 billion investment phase one that is in full flow."

PM: Supply side reform will help people back into work

15:54 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked what he wants to see the NHS do to tackle Britain’s economic inactivity, with many older Britons leaving the jobs market due to health conditions.

“There is a lot of detail that has been put out on musculoskeletal conditions, but there is no simple way to solve the problem.

“I was encouraged when the OBR said it was the best supply side package they had seen to tackle the labour market.”

PM confirms HS2 will go to and terminate at Euston

15:45 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak says that HS2 will go to and ultimately terminate at Euston.

The PM, taking questions from chair of the Transport Committee Iain Stewart, said: "It shouldn't be ambiguous."

He said that "the aim is to deliver that station alongside the rollout to Manchester and to take the time now to get the right deliverability for that particular section".

BMA’s pay demand is ‘unreasonable’, Sunak claims

15:37 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked whether he believes that industrial action will significantly impact his plans to cut the waiting list.

He responds: “It does make it harder but we were on track up until now. We will have to see how the NHS copes with the upcoming strikes.”

Pressed on whether he can find a resolution with junior doctors, he adds: “We are happy to have constructive discussions with unions to end these disputes. Ultimately, it’s inflation that is making people’s living standards less healthy than they would like.

“Our door is always open.... we hugely value the work doctors do. We are keen to find a way through this that is reasonable for taxpayers.

“The BMA have placed a precondition of a 35 per cent pay rise. Almost everyone would see that as unreasonable and unaffordable, but our door is always open.”

Junior doctors industrial action ‘could impact waiting list target'

15:31 , Daniel Keane

Mr Brine asks the PM for an update on the NHS’ ambition to cut waiting lists.

He says the Government is “on track” to treat those suffering the longest waits but admits that industrial action by junior doctors could derail his plans.

“We are broadly on track to eliminate waits of a year and a half by Spring. The target after that is to practically eliminate 52-week waits by next year.

“Elective activity is running at about 106 per cent of pre-pandemic levels... but we need to drive that number higher.”

Sunak: NHS pay rises won’t affect funding to cut waiting lists

15:26 , Daniel Keane

Tory MP Steve Brine asks about the NHS pay dispute and where the funding for a new pay rise for nurses and paramedics will come from.

Mr Sunak responds: “I was very pleased we could reach an agreement with several health unions. It’s right that they are paid fairly for the fantastic work they do.

“But it’s also important that is affordable for the taxpayer and consistent with our ambition to tackle inflation.

“There are always conversations between departments and the Treasury, but I think the Health Secretary has provided strong reaassurance about additional funding. All our commitments to cut waiting lists remain of paramount importance.”

UK ‘can’t be complacent about inflation'

15:20 , Daniel Keane

Mr Sunak is asked about his plan to bring down inflation and reduce debt.

He replies: “We are making progress but particularly with combatting inflation we can’t be complacent.

“It’s important we stick to the plan and if we do so then we will bring inflation down. You must have fiscal discipline and act on the supply side of the economy to ease some of those inflationary pressures.”

Sunak: President Xi should engage with Putin to end the conflict

15:16 , Daniel Keane

Sir Bernard asks for the Prime Minister’s opinion on the summit held between China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The summit came amid fears that Beijing could soon supply Moscow with weapons.

Mr Sunak responds: “While I welcomed China’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, I’d encourage President Xi to engage directly with President Zelensky on any peace proposal that China is interested in putting forward.

“Russia is dependent on China for many reasons. I would urge President Xi to use his influence on Mr Putin to try and bring an end to this conflict.”

Mr Sunak added that he did not accept China’s proposal for a ceasefire.

Outcome of war is ‘for Ukraine to decide'

15:12 , Daniel Keane

Good afternoon and welcome to our coverage of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s appearance in front of the Liaison Committee.

Beginning his questioning, Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin asks what an acceptable outcome for the war in Ukraine would be for the British Government after President Joe Biden admitted the conflict was likely to be a “long war”.

Mr Sunak responds: “It is for Ukraine to decide what is acceptable to them. It’s not for anyone else to dictate for Ukraine.

“Our job is to give them the support to have that conversation at a time of their choosing, so that they can win this conflict. In the immediate term my priority has been to intensity and accelerate our support for Ukraine so that they can have decisive advantages on the battlefield in the coming months.”