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A senior cabinet minister has insisted that almost all legal challenges by migrants to government efforts to send them to Rwanda would fail under Rishi Sunak’s flagship asylum legislation.
The claim by Grant Shapps, defence secretary, came as Conservative MPs prepared to meet on Monday to decide whether to back the Rwanda bill, which faces its first House of Commons vote on Tuesday.
The vote is a critical test for Sunak, with MPs on the right and the centre-left of the Tory party meeting separately to give their verdict on whether they can back the legislation.
Shapps told the BBC 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 Human Rights Act. But migrants could still lodge appeals against being sent to Rwanda on the basis of individual circumstances.
“We think it will deal with 99.5 per cent of those challenges — that’s the modelling for this piece of legislation,” Shapps said. “The way this is designed is that 199 out of 200 of the appeals would be dealt with within 17 days.
“You end up at 99.5 per cent of challenges failing and it happening a good deal faster than the current system,” he added.
Shapps’ claims were contested by a person close to former home secretary Suella Braverman, who said the model was “outdated and analytically flawed” because it was produced in March, before the government’s defeats in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“There was never any modelling done for the new Rwanda bill because they failed to plan,” the person said, adding that internal Home Office legal advice is that the threshold for challenges has been lowered by the courts’ decisions.
Tory MPs from a number of rightwing caucuses are meeting on Monday to discuss the legislation — including hearing legal advice — and how they might vote on Tuesday.
A “star chamber” of Conservative lawyers has decided the legislation is not robust enough to avoid lengthy legal challenges, while Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister last week, has also said it is too weak.
It would take only 29 Tory MPs to vote with opposition parties to defeat the bill on Tuesday night, but Downing Street is hopeful it can secure victory at this stage.
Even if the bill is passed on its first Commons vote — known in Westminster as a “second reading” — Sunak could still face problematic attempts by the Tory right to toughen it up with amendments at a later stage.
“I won’t be supporting this bill, but I do think we can fix this, and that’s what I want to do now,” Jenrick said on Sunday.
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. “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”.
A Downing Street spokesperson 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.”