Rishi Sunak’s government was plunged into fresh crisis when the immigration minister resigned just hours after the prime minister tabled a bill aimed at saving his Rwanda expulsion policy.
Robert Jenrick resigned after it was revealed the legislation did not allow the government to override international laws that prevent it from sending asylum seekers to central Africa.
In a statement published on X, the Newark MP said Sunak’s bill was “a triumph of hope over experience” and would mean the policy would be challenged again in court.
Jenrick’s resignation will be seen as an attempt to position himself at the head of a growing right-wing rebellion aimed at ensuring the UK can act unilaterally and send flights to Kigali.
It comes just weeks after the resignation of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who accused Sunak of “ wishful thinking ” to “avoid having to make tough choices” on immigration.
Jenrick, until recently seen as a close political ally of Sunak, wrote: “I am unable to pass the bill currently before the Commons as I do not believe it gives us the best chance of success.
“A bill like the one you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience. The stakes for the country are too high for us not to seek to strengthen the protections necessary to end the whirlwind of legal challenges that risk paralyzing the system and nullifying its deterrent effect,” he said.
The emergency bill will give ministers the power to ignore certain judgments emanating from Strasbourg, without abandoning or “doing away” the European Convention on Human Rights in its entirety.
Critics from the conservative right said such a move raises the possibility that it would remain open to individual legal challenges that would prevent planes from taking off to Rwanda.
Sunak thanked Jenrick for his efforts but said Rwanda’s policy would work. He said: “Your resignation is disappointing given that we both agreed on the outcome, which was to get the flights to Rwanda off the ground so we could stop the boats. I fear your departure is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. It is our experience that gives us confidence that it will work.
“This Bill is the toughest illegal immigration legislation ever proposed by a UK government. It makes it clear that Parliament considers Rwanda safe and no court can guess that. It leaves out the relevant parts of the Human Rights Act and makes clear that it is up to ministers to decide whether or not to comply with temporary injunctions issued by the European Court. human rights.
“If we were to completely oust the courts, we would fail the entire system. »
Confirmation of Jenrick’s resignation came earlier on Wednesday evening as Cleverly presented the bill to MPs alongside Sunak but without Jenrick.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “We have a Home Secretary making the statement, but there are rumors that the Immigration Minister has resigned. Where is he? Perhaps he could make this the first question he answers – if he still has an Immigration Minister in place.
“There is open warfare between their backbenchers, the next leadership election is kicking off and once again the whole country is paying the price for this chaos.”
Cleverly initially refused to respond to several requests for an explanation, but was later informed that Home Secretary Laura Farris had confirmed Jenrick’s resignation on LBC.
The Rwanda Security (Asylum and Immigration) Bill falls short of departing from the convention and does not include “derogation clauses” that would allow ministers to ignore the ECHR and other international treaties in the field of asylum.
The legislation, which must be passed by Parliament, gives ministers the power to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.
Cleverly admitted he could not say the legislation complied with Britain’s obligations under the ECHR.
Last night, several Conservative MPs indicated that they were deeply unhappy with the bill. A source close to Braverman said the bill was “fatally flawed.”
“The Prime Minister has given each illegal migrant the opportunity to file individual human rights complaints against their deportation and to then appeal those complaints if they are initially unsuccessful. It is fatally imperfect.
“This is going to bog down in court for months and months. And that won’t stop the boats. This is a new betrayal of conservative voters and the decent patriotic majority who want to see an end to this madness,” the source said.
Other right-wing Conservative MPs were unhappy that the bill did not do away with the ECHR and believe that every asylum seeker could seek an injunction to stop being deported on a flight. “I don’t see how we avoided individual legal challenges,” one MP said.
In the Commons, former minister Sir John Hayes, a close ally of Braverman, said: “The new Home Secretary will of course be aware and welcome the fact that he will be… judged on the effectiveness of this legislation for weeks and months and years, maybe even decades.
Mark Francois, the former defense minister, said the interior minister had “conspicuously dodged” questions about the individual calls.
“As every person we seek to send to Rwanda is an individual, if under this legislation these people could continue to appeal and appeal in order to delay their being put on a flight, what is the interest of this bill?
Smartly, in his response he said: “An appeal process is an important part of a new legal process, it will not prevent people from being sent to Rwanda under this program. »
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked for details of any assessment made “as to whether the non-enforcement of the Human Rights Act and other laws is robust and will withstand challenges legal”.
Braverman, the former home secretary, previously made a personal statement to MPs, saying the Tories risked “slipping into electoral oblivion” unless ministers block all domestic and international laws used to stop deportation flights.
Sunak, after the bill was published but before Jenrick’s resignation was confirmed, met members of the powerful 1922 committee and told MPs they must “unite or die” on the bill .
He also claimed the British government could go further and scrap the ECHR because the Rwandan government had insisted it must respect international law, sources said.
In a statement released by the Rwandan government, Vincent Biruta, the minister of foreign affairs, said Kigali would have walked away from the deal if it had resulted in a violation of the law. “Without lawful behavior from the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue the Migration and Economic Development Partnership,” he said.
Number 10 considered two options in the bill. The first, known as the “semi-skimmed” option, aimed to remove the application only of the British Human Rights Act in asylum applications. However, this will not prevent individual migrants from clashing, sources said.
The second, “comprehensive” option removed the right of judicial review and included “derogation clauses”, which would allow ministers to ignore the ECHR and other international treaties in the area of asylum.
This is the second part of a government strategy aimed at getting its Rwanda policy back on track, following last month’s Supreme Court ruling which found the policy illegal.
The treaty, signed by Cleverly in Kigali on Tuesday, ensures that migrants transferred from the UK to Rwanda will not be sent back to their countries of origin.
In a statement, Sunak said: “With this historic new emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people from undertaking perilous journeys across the Channel and end the ongoing legal challenges that fill our courts.
“And we will remove sections of the Human Rights Act from key parts of the bill, particularly in the case of Rwanda, to ensure that our plan cannot be stopped. »
The bill will be presented to the Commons on Thursday, with a substantive debate planned for next week.
Pat McFadden, Labor’s national campaign coordinator, responding to Jenrick’s resignation, said: “This latest chaotic chapter demonstrates why the country is ready for change. And Keir Starmer’s new Labor Party is ready.
“The British people deserve a government that will solve the issues that matter to working people, not a Tory circus of gimmicks and leadership posturing. »