Rwanda bill does not go far enough, Tory right tells Sunak

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The UK government’s Rwanda bill provides only “a partial and incomplete solution” to legal challenges to its asylum seeker policy, lawyers representing right-wing Tory MPs have said, in a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

A so-called “Star Chamber” of lawyers acting for the European Research Group (ERG) criticised the bill for not restricting appeals from asylum seekers sent to Rwanda based on their individual circumstances.

Sunak’s bill — set for a House of Commons vote on Tuesday — would declare Rwanda a “safe” country for asylum seekers, so as to preclude legal challenges to government plans to send migrants to the country.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that Rwanda was not a safe country because asylum seekers faced the risk of being sent back to their home countries without proper consideration of their claims.

The bill is part of the prime minister’s attempt to address the ruling, revive his government’s flagging electoral fortunes and deliver on his promise to stop the “small boats” carrying migrants across the channel from France.

Mark Francois, ERG chair, said the mood of right-wing Tory MPs at a meeting on Monday was that “the government would be best advised to pull the bill and to come up with a revised version that works better than this one which has so many holes in it”.

“Inasmuch as there was a consensus, that was the consensus,” he added.

Mark Francois, centre, and deputy chair David Jones, right, speak to the media outside Portcullis House © Lucy North/PA

One option for Tory MPs is to support the bill now with a view to trying to amend it at a later date. The other options are to vote against it or abstain, moves that would severely undermine Sunak’s authority.

The Home Office on Monday published a summary of the government’s legal advice on the legislation, in an unusual move ahead of the vote.

It said the bill precluded “almost all grounds” for individuals to challenge being sent to Rwanda, and that “the majority of appeals under the scheme will be heard out of country” because the bill restricts interim injunctions.

But the summary said that a blanket prohibition on challenges would be too extreme. “Doing so would mean that there would be no respectable argument that the bill is compatible with international law,” it said.

A spokesman for Sunak said the decision to publish a summary of official legal advice was taken because of significant “public interest” in the issue.

Grant Shapps, defence secretary, told the BBC earlier on Monday that government modelling suggested 99.5 per cent of individual challenges against deportation would fail, once the bill was passed.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill declares that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and disapplies parts of the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act, even though migrants could still lodge appeals on the basis of individual circumstances.

Shapps’ claims were contested by a person close to former home secretary Suella Braverman, who said the model was “outdated and analytically flawed” because it was produced in March, before the government’s defeats in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

It would take only 29 Tory MPs to vote with opposition parties to defeat the bill, but Downing Street is hopeful it can secure victory at this stage.

Tory MPs from the moderate One Nation group, also meeting on Monday, have expressed concerns that the bill is too tough, but most are expected to support the legislation on Tuesday.

However, they will resist any move by rightwing Tory MPs to disapply the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act. “We shouldn’t be taken for granted,” said one former cabinet minister in the group.

The government released a £700mn contract tender last week to find providers to run services for small boat arrivals at two centres in Kent on the south coast, potentially until 2034.

The contract, first reported by the BBC, is an indication the government believes small boats are likely to continue arriving on UK shores, despite Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”.

Downing Street said: “We are talking to colleagues, but we are confident this bill is extremely robust and makes the routes for any individual challenge vanishingly small.”

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