Mr Sunak's attempt to rejuvenate the Rwanda policy suffered a setback
In a press conference on December 7, 2023, Rishi Sunak defended the Rwanda asylum policy, stating that it fully addressed the concerns of the UK Supreme Court.
But the issue threatens to destabilise his leadership.
Despite scepticism from MPs and legal experts, the PM said a new treaty with Rwanda and the legislation would “end the merry-go-round of legal challenges” that had blocked the policy to date.
Ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman had said the legislation “will not work” and warned the Conservative Party was in a “very perilous position”.
Mr Sunak’s attempt to rejuvenate the Rwanda policy suffered a setback shortly after the government introduced the bill, with the resignation of immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
Mr Jenrick said the bill was a “triumph of hope over experience” and had urged the PM to propose a more assertive measure to extricate the UK from international treaties.
He expressed his determination not to become “another politician making promises on immigration to the British public without fulfilling them”.
A considerable number of right-wing MPs, aligned with Mr Jenrick, are dissatisfied with the proposed legislation for not exempting international treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, to preempt anticipated legal challenges in both the UK and Strasbourg.
If as few as 29 Conservative MPs decide to rebel and vote alongside Labour against the bill next week, it could pose a significant threat to Rishi Sunak’s leadership.
The Prime Minister’s statement appeared to downplay the significance of the vote on the Rwanda bill as a confidence measure in his leadership.
This would mean Tory MPs risking losing party support if they choose to rebel.
Rishi Sunak emphasised that the crucial question lay with the Labour Party, questioning their stance on the legislation.
The Supreme Court had recently blocked the Rwanda policy, stating that the East African nation was not deemed safe due to the real risk asylum seekers faced when being returned to their countries without adequate consideration of their claims.
Mr Sunak outlined that his new bill incorporated “notwithstanding clauses” to counter challenges under the UK Human Rights Act and other laws.
He asserted that the bill addressed every reason previously cited to halt flights to Rwanda, establishing stringent criteria for individuals to challenge the legislation.
According to Rishi Sunak, the bill only permitted challenges from those who could demonstrate an individual risk of irreparable harm if sent to Rwanda, setting a bar so high that meeting it would be exceedingly rare.
The bill legally designates Rwanda as a “safe country” and disposes of certain sections of the UK’s Human Rights Act.
However, it falls short of fully exempting international law, leaving the government susceptible to challenges from individual applicants.