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Conservative rightwingers have unveiled amendments to tighten Rishi Sunak’s emergency Rwanda legislation, drawing new battle lines for the prime minister’s showdown with his party next week.
Around 30 MPs belonging to the “Five Families” of factions on the right flank of the Tory party are backing revisions to the legislation, introduced last month, that they claim would close the loopholes that could block migrants being removed to Rwanda.
These include an amendment that would compel ministers to automatically ignore “pyjama injunctions”, those granted at the last minute and sometimes late at night, from judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg seeking to ground flights to Rwanda.
Under another amendment, migrants would also be blocked from bringing individual claims to prevent their removal to the east African nation. Both amendments would allow for limited exceptions.
A third would block asylum seekers from trying to prevent their removal under the European Convention on Human Rights or other international treaties.
Robert Jenrick, former immigration minister, said: “The bill as drafted simply will not work because it doesn’t end the merry-go-round of legal challenges that frustrate removals.”
He said a failure to “fix” the bill would entail “more illegal crossings, more farcical migrant hotels and billions more of wasted taxpayers’ money” in the years ahead.
The plan was unveiled on Tuesday night after Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, confirmed that the bill would return to the House for committee stage next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sunak is facing severe pressure from both wings of his party over the bill, which is aimed at assuaging the Supreme Court’s concerns about the safety of Rwanda as a destination for asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via small boats.
Centrist MPs in the One Nation caucus are yet to unveil any of their own amendments, but have warned the prime minister against tightening the bill further and thereby risking breaches of international law.
One Nation MPs holding a drinks reception in Pall Mall on Tuesday night said they were urging Sunak to stand firm against the Tory right. “If he does that, they’ll go away,” said one.
Moderate Tory MPs argue that the rightwingers’ amendments would be defeated, leaving the latter only with the “nuclear option” of voting with Labour to defeat the whole bill. “They won’t do that,” said a One Nation MP.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the amendments “will not address the fact that the Rwanda bill is not only unconscionable but utterly unworkable and will not have the deterrent effect the government says it will have”.
“The reality is that draconian new laws that extinguish the right to asylum are simply resulting in vast cost, chaos and human suffering to refugees who should be given protection in our country,” he added.
Jenrick quit as immigration minister last month claiming that the legislation put forward by Sunak was too weak and would culminate in efforts to send people to Rwanda getting snarled up in the courts.
Last year, Sunak made “stopping the boats” of asylum seekers entering the country one of five pre-election pledges, and the Rwanda scheme was presented as the linchpin of the policy, acting as a deterrent to would-be migrants.
However, five Supreme Court judges ruled unanimously in November that the policy was unlawful because it would put asylum seekers at real risk of being repatriated from Rwanda to their countries of origin without proper consideration of their claims.
The legislation brought forward by Sunak and home secretary James Cleverly states that Rwanda is a safe country and disapplies some sections of the UK’s Human Rights Act. It stops short, however, of blocking European courts from intervening in UK verdicts, and leaves open the opportunity for individual challenges to removal orders.