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Sunak risks angering Tory right by avoiding most hardline Rwanda legislation as draft bill unveiled

  ( ES Composite)
( ES Composite)

Rishi Sunak has risked enflaming anger on the Tory right by shunning the most hardline option with his legislation aimed at reviving the stalled Rwanda asylum policy.

The draft Bill, published on Wednesday, compels judges to treat the East African nation as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation, which must be voted on by Parliament, gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not go as far as providing powers to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, as hardliners including sacked home secretary Suella Braverman have demanded.

Mrs Braverman’s allies made clear that the Bill is “fatally flawed” indicating that she believes it will quickly lead the Tories into “electoral oblivion”.

The Prime Minister said the legislation will ensure his flagship asylum scheme “cannot be stopped” as he battles the issue of small boat crossings of the Channel.

And we will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped

Rishi Sunak

“Through this new landmark emergency legislation we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts,” Mr Sunak said.

“And we will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly states on the front page of the legislation, however, that he cannot guarantee that it is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill states that it is the “judgment of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.

The Bill says that “every decision-maker” – specifically mentioning the courts – “must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.

It states that ministers will decide whether to ignore interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights which have previously scuppered flights.

Unveiling the legislation in the Commons, Mr Cleverly said the bill would prevent courts from “second-guessing” the will of Parliament

He also sought to assure MPs that there was no risk of refugees being returned to their countries of origin from Rwanda as a result of the treaty and new legislation.

“Anyone removed to Rwanda under the provisions of the treaty will not be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom in a very small number of limited and extreme circumstances.

“And should the UK request the return of any relocated person, Rwanda will make them available.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Government of creating "total chaos" through the bill.

"This is the desperate dying days of a party ripping itself apart, clearly totally out of ideas, lost any sense of leadership or direction."

She added: “They’ve got open warfare among their backbenches, the starting gun fired on the next leadership election and once again the whole country paying the price for this chaos.”

Combined with the new legally binding treaty brokered with Rwanda, the Government hopes they can get the policy first announced in April last year off the ground.

The publication of the legislation comes after Mrs Braverman warned the Tories face “electoral oblivion in a matter of months” if the legislation introduced is “destined to fail”.

The sacked home secretary, who commands support on the party’s right, said the Bill must contain powers to override the European Convention on Human Rights and “all other international law”.

But complying with her demands would have left Mr Sunak facing possible ministerial resignations, an outcry from his MPs from the more centrist One Nation faction and an even rougher ride for the Bill through the House of Lords.

The Tory left has urged ministers to ensure the country follows rule of law rather than trying to undermine the oversight of the Strasbourg court.

Mr Sunak was addressing a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives as he seeks to shore up support, with MPs from across the Tory spectrum including Theresa May and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg in attendance.

A source close to Mrs Braverman quickly made clear that the Bill “doesn’t come close” to meeting her tests, arguing asylum seekers will still be able to make human rights appeals against removals.

“It is fatally flawed,” the ally said.

“It will be bogged down in the courts for months and months. And it won’t stop the boats. It is a further betrayal of Tory voters and the decent patriotic majority who want to see this insanity brought to an end.”

The right-wing European Research Group (ERG) will assemble its so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the legislation before the Commons vote.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions to criticise the “gimmick” as giving Rwanda “hundreds of millions of pounds for nothing in return”.

Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta stressed the need for the UK’s legislation to comply with international law.

“It has always been important to both Rwanda and the UK that our rule of law partnership meets the highest standards of international law, and it places obligations on both the UK and Rwanda to act lawfully,” he said.

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”