Sunak open to tougher Rwanda deportation laws amid backlash

Rishi Sunak insisted he is open to toughening up his Rwanda deportation laws if rebels can come up with “respectable” changes.

The Prime Minister is facing a series of fresh battles with backbenchers on both wings of the party when the legislation returns to the Commons in the new year.

Hardliners want reforms that will stop migrants using legal rights to appeal to avoid being put on a flight to Kigali.

But centrists warn they will not back radical changes to a bill they already have concerns about.

Mr Sunak said: “I’ve been very consistently clear, as have all ministers, if there are ways that the legislation can be improved, to be made even more effective – with a respectable legal argument and maintaining the participation of the Rwandans in the scheme – of course we would be open to that, who wouldn’t be?”

The Prime Minister won a crunch vote with a 44-strong majority in the Commons on his emergency draft law aimed at reviving the policy to deport some asylum seekers to the east African nation.

The Prime Minister previously insisted the legislation strikes the right balance between the demands of both wings of his party.

He suggested there is only an “inch” between his rescue plan and more radical measures that would risk Rwanda pulling out of the scheme.

But Mr Sunak has refused to say how soon flights to Kigali will take off if he gets the legislation through the Commons and Lords, where it is also expected to face heavy scrutiny.

Right-wing Tory factions including the European Research Group (ERG) have threatened to vote down the Safety of Rwanda Bill unless it is hardened, including by denying asylum seekers individual appeals.

But this could risk losing the backing of more centrist Tories, who are keen to protect the legislation against breaches of international law.

Mr Sunak dismissed backbench objections as “debating society” behaviour but in a bid to pre-empt rebellion said that Rwanda will not take deportees who have no legal recourse to Strasbourg.

A number of Tory MPs have privately put forward suggestions to No 10 of how the bill could be tightened up.

But Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has insisted the government will not cave to pressure from the right of the Tory Party by watering down the Bill’s commitment to international obligations.

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The legislation seeks to enable Parliament to deem Rwanda “safe” generally but makes limited allowances for personal claims against being sent to Kigali under a clause disliked by Conservative hardliners.

Mr Sunak has tried to find a middle ground with the Bill, which is designed to prevent migrants who arrive in Britain via unauthorised routes from challenging deportation, after the Supreme Court ruled the flagship policy unlawful.

It allows ministers to disapply the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as overriding the European Convention on Human Rights, which MPs on the Conservative right have argued is necessary to get the grounded £290 million scheme running.

Tobias Ellwood, one of the One Nation group of centrists, voted against the Rwanda bill at the second reading stage on Tuesday.

He said he could not back legislation that “rips up” international law.

“I can’t support any policy that then actually dictates Parliament determining if a country is safe,” he told GB News.

“And that’s actually in clause two of the bill, every decision maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country. It’s not up to Parliament to make that judgment.”

Mr Ellwood said there is no data that shows the plan would act as a deterrent to migrants crossing the channel in small boats.

“I’m happy to be proved wrong. But again looking at the bill, any individual that claims for example that they are a homosexual or have political issues and so forth, then their considerations would then move to the courts. So our courts will be clogged up.

“If they’ve taken the risk, paid a lot of money to a criminal gang to get across the channel, then they will do whatever they can to avoid going to Rwanda. “

“I’m not giving it a chance because it breaches international law. I’m happy with the concept of us taking people to another place. Even the Supreme Court said that is OK.

“But I’m not happy with supporting a bill that says no, we’re going to rip up international law. That’s not a good look.”

Downing Street insisted it still considered the bill the only way forward.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We continue to believe that the Bill is the right way forward. It is what is necessary to get flights off the ground and off the ground quickly.”

“We talked yesterday about the parameters the Bill needs to work under but within that we are very keen to hear more from MPs.”

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