Rishi Sunak tells the British public: I get it! Now back me to finish the job
The Prime Minister is facing potential rebellions from both wings of the Conservatives, as centrists fear his new law has gone too far while the Right believes he has not been tough enough.
But Mr Sunak insisted his Bill would block “every single reason that has ever been used” to prevent flights to the East African nation.
He declared yesterday: “We’ve got to finish the job and I’m going to see this thing through. I’m confident I can get this thing done.”
The PM added: “We need to end the merry-go-round. So I’m also announcing today that we will take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation. This will enable Parliament to confirm that with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe.”
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Mr Sunak held the last-minute press conference yesterday to reassert his authority.
Robert Jenrick had sent shockwaves through Westminster by quitting as immigration minister as the PM published plans to make Rwanda deportations viable after they were blocked by the Supreme Court.
Mr Jenrick claimed the legislation will fail as it does not go far enough – a concern backed up by a number of Tory MPs on the Right.
But the Premier insisted that the difference between his position and that of party colleagues who want to set aside international agreements, such as the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, was minimal.
He said in No9 Downing Street: “For the people who say, ‘You should do something different’, the difference between them and me is an inch, given everything that we have closed. We’re talking about an inch.
“That inch, by the way, is the difference between the Rwandans participating in this scheme and not.” Mr Sunak also faces concerns from centrist Tory MPs in the One Nation group who are “very nervous” about the Bill.
The Commons has its first chance to debate and vote on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill next Tuesday. The law would compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country, following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees, and gives ministers the power to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.
But it does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the ECHR.
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Mr Jenrick, a former ally of Mr Sunak, resigned hours after the publication of the legislation, claiming it “does not go far enough” and dismissing it as a “triumph of hope over experience”. The scale of unease on the Right of the party over the Rwanda plan has led to speculation about a no-confidence vote in Mr Sunak’s leadership – it would require the opposition of 53 Tory MPs to trigger the move.
Centrists worry that courts cannot override the declaration of the Bill that Rwanda is a safe country while a panel of legal experts from the Right, known as the Star Chamber, is drawing up its verdict on the legislation before the vote.
European Research Group chairman Mark Francois MP said: “We all agree with the Prime Minister that we need to stop the boats but the legislation to do this must be assuredly fit for purpose.”
The Bill is also likely to run into difficulties in the Lords, where the Government has struggled to get legislation through unscathed. But Mr Sunak dismissed calls for an early election if he struggles to push his bill through Parliament.
Tory chairman Richard Holden has admitted that “unity” is the biggest challenge facing his party ahead of the general election.
In a rallying call to his colleagues, the MP warned that it would be “insanity” to have yet another leadership contest before the country goes to the polls.
Speaking to reporters at a Westminster lunch, Mr Holden warned the Tories that divided parties do not win elections.
Amid the fallout over Mr Sunak’s Bill, Mr Holden said: “We have a really positive story to tell.
“We need to go out there and tell it rather than talking to ourselves about what we’re not quite as perfect on as we could be.”
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Asked about Mr Jenrick’s bombshell resignation from his immigration ministerial role over the proposed legislation, Mr Holden said: “I genuinely don’t understand why he’s taken the decision he’s taken.
“What the PM is bringing forward at the moment are the toughest immigration laws we could possibly have. He won a big debate within the Government over the last few weeks to have them really tough.”
Quizzed over what the biggest challenges facing the Tories as they prepare to ask voters for a fifth term in office, Mr Holden responded: “The biggest challenge we face is actually a challenge for all of my colleagues really.”
He went on: “It’s to decide whether they’re interested in being in government, continuing to make those massive changes we’ve made over the past decade.
“Whether we’re interested in shifting 65 to 85% of kids going to good schools, whether we’re interested in keeping education standards there and opportunities for the next generation, whether we’re interested in ensuring people are in work.
“Or whether they would prefer to sit in Opposition and watch the Labour Party undo really sensible welfare reforms we’ve made.
“Watch them – as Keir Starmer has said – use Wales as a blueprint, see them take us to that socialist utopia that is Wales at the moment.”
He added: “I hope they understand, actually, the enemy is not within – the enemy is out there.”
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