Ministers set to update bill allowing them to 'ignore European judges'

Behind the scenes the prime minister has been working with rebel MPs on the right of his party to stave off a rebellion on new immigration laws, as Harry Horton reports

Ministers have reportedly caved to Tory rebels and agreed to amend its controversial Illegal Migration Bill, allowing the government to ignore European judges in certain situations.

A group of Conservative MPs say they have reached a deal with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to change new rules for removing people who arrive in the UK on small boats, after they threatened to revolt over the legislation.

It is understood ministers have agreed to give the home secretary powers to disregard injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights – so-called Rule 39 orders – in some instances.

Speaking to ITV News on Thursday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick insisted there is a lot of support for the amendments, and said "as soon as we do get it through, we'll be putting it into action".

One of the other members of the Tory group, Simon Clarke, said: "It's outrageous that we haven't managed to get these removal flights underway in the way which parliament has voted for. This is all about making sure this can happen."

'As soon as we do get it through, we'll be putting it into action', pledges immigration minister Robert Jenrick to ITV News

It is also expected that a second amendment will be introduced requiring British judges to conclude a deportation would cause “serious and irreversible harm” in order to block it.

But senior legal figures have warned any move to allow ministers the power to ignore ECHR orders stopping the removal of migrants would undermine the rule of law.

Lord Thomas, a former Lord Chief Justice and cross-bench peer, expressed deep reservations and said the move would set "an extraordinarily bad example". “Many people would say having the power to ignore a court order is something – unless the circumstances were quite extraordinary – this is a step a government should never take because it is symbolic of a breach of the rule of law," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Richard Atkinson, the deputy vice-president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said he was concerned the UK was heading towards a "clear and serious breach of international law".

"The rule of law means governments respect and follow domestic and international law and disputes are ruled on by independent courts.

"This amendment would undermine the global rules-based order, set a dangerous precedent within the international community and damage the UK's standing in the world."

'It's outrageous that we haven't managed to get these removal flights underway', says MP Simon Clarke on the possible changes to the controversial Illegal Migration Bill

The government is expected to publish the amendments on Thursday ahead of debates and votes next week.

The Bill has been at the centre of controversy, with critics warning the proposed legislation leaves the UK foul of its international obligations and opposition parties dismissing it as unworkable.

But right-wing Tory MPs have signalled it does not go far enough, with some calling for ministers to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to drive through tighter border controls.

Others on the liberal wing want to see the prime minister commit to establishing safe routes via which asylum seekers can come to Britain.

The apparent compromise comes after Mr Sunak failed to guarantee he could achieve his plan to “stop the boats” by the next election and said it “won’t happen overnight”.

He had pledged to “stop the boats” as one of the five main priorities of his leadership.

Rishi Sunak has failed to guarantee he could achieve his plan to “stop the boats” by the next election. Credit: PA

But asked in an interview with Conservative Home whether he was confident he could do that by the next election, the prime minister said: “I’ve always said this is not something that is easy; it is a complicated problem where there’s no single, simple solution that will fix it.”

The government’s Illegal Migration Bill is aimed at changing the law to make it clear people arriving in the UK illegally will not be able to remain in the country.

They will either be sent back to their home country or to a nation like Rwanda with which the UK has a deal, although legal challenges mean no flights carrying migrants have taken off for Kigali.

More than 5,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel this year.

Home Office figures published on Tuesday confirmed the provisional number of people making the journey to date in 2023 stands at 5,049.

A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister and home secretary are focused on delivering the five priorities for 2023 – halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists and stopping the boats.

“While we have been clear there is no silver bullet, our Stop the Boats Bill will ensure anyone arriving illegally will be detained and swiftly removed, ending the unfair practice of people skipping the queue.”

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