Rishi Sunak 'disappointed' after Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick quits over Rwanda bill

Robert Jenrick said he 'refuses to be yet another politician who makes promises on immigration to the British public but does not keep them'.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has quit over the government's new Rwanda Bill, citing "such strong disagreements with the direction of the government's policy on immigration".

The new Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was released on Wednesday and is the second strand of the PM's plan to get illegal asylum seekers deported to Rwanda.

Mr Sunak will hold a press conference at 11am on Thursday, where he will no doubt be questioned by journalists on the future of his leadership if the new plan fails.

The prime minister has split ministerial responsibility for legal and illegal migration in the wake of Mr Jenrick's resignation.

Michael Tomlinson will be the illegal migration minister, attending Cabinet, while Tom Pursglove will be the minister for legal migration and delivery.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has denied Tory divisions over the policy. Credit: PA

The new Rwanda bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees. It must be voted on by Parliament, and gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But crucially, it does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, which ignores the calls of hardliners like sacked home secretary Suella Braverman.

Despite questions being raise over the tenability of Mr Sunak's leadership, cabinet minister Chris Heaton-Harris attempted to play down the Tory divisions on Thursday morning.

Asked if the vote on the Safety Of Rwanda Bill would be treated as a matter of confidence in the PM, Mr Heaton-Harris said that was a decision for the whips but “I can’t see why it would need to be because I think all Conservatives will vote for it”.

"The policy of stopping the boats is something that actually does unite the Conservative Party. There’s elements in this Bill where people would like to go further…. there’s also people that say this goes too far," Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Heaton-Harris told Sky News.

“I actually think this Bill strikes the right balance. It is a really strong group of measures to try and stop the boats in a completely legal and justifiable way. And I think it will work.”

Following his resignation on Wednesday, Mr Jenrick said on X that he "cannot continue in my position when I have such strong disagreements with the direction of the government’s policy on immigration."

The PM described Mr Jenrick’s resignation as “disappointing”, telling him in a letter he fears it was “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation”.

Mr Sunak thanked his former immigration minister for his efforts, but insisted his Rwanda policy would work.

"Your hard work has helped us cut boat crossings by more than a third. You have strived to cut the asylum backlog and return hotels to their communities," he wrote to Mr Jenrick.

“Your resignation is disappointing given we both agree on the ends, getting flights off to Rwanda so that we can stop the boats. I fear that your departure is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. It is our experience that gives us confidence that this will work."

Mr Jenrick was notably absent from the House of Commons when the home secretary outlined the details of the newly published bill on Wednesday evening.

The emergency legislation, which states in law that Rwanda is a safe country, will prevent courts from “second-guessing” the will of Parliament, Mr Cleverly insisted.

Updating the Commons on the new treaty with Rwanda, he said: “Given the Supreme Court’s judgement, we cannot be confident that courts will respect the new treaty on its own.

“So today, the government has published emergency legislation to make unambiguously clear that Rwanda is a safe country and to prevent the courts from second-guessing parliament’s will.

"It is a Bill which is lawful, it is fair and it is necessary," he added, before stressing the government is "absolutely committed to human rights" and international law.

'Rwanda is, and will remain, a safe country for the purposes of asylum and resettlement'

Instead of disapplying all human rights treaties, described as the "full fat" option, Mr Sunak opted to give ministers the power to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

It doesn't give them the agency to dismiss the ECHR which is what hardliners, including Ms Braverman and Mr Jenrick, had demanded.

In his resignation statement, posted on X, Mr Jenrick said he "had been pushing for the strongest possible piece of emergency legislation to ensure that under the Rwanda policy we remove as many small boat arrivals".

He admitted the emergency legislation “moved towards my position” but the bill was “a triumph of hope over experience”.

"I am unable to take the currently proposed legislation through the Commons as I do not believe it provides us with the best possible chance of success," he wrote.

"A Bill of the kind you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience. The stakes for the country are too high for us not to pursue the stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme and negating its intended deterrent.”

He added: “Reflecting on my time in the Home Office, I am proud of the improvements we have delivered together working alongside dedicated and capable civil servants. I am grateful to you for agreeing to much of my five-point plan to reduce net migration which, once implemented, will deliver the single largest reduction in legal migration ever.

“However, I refuse to be yet another politician who makes promises on immigration to the British public but does not keep them.”

Suella Braverman warned 'the Conservative Party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months' if the new Rwanda Bill didn't meet certain demands

The prime minister had been warned by Ms Braverman that he risks "electoral oblivion" if the legislation failed to go far enough.

Responding after its publication, the former home secretary said it "doesn't come close" to her demands, adding: "The Prime Minister has kept the ability for every single illegal migrant to make individual human rights claims against their removal and to then appeal those claims if they don’t succeed at first.

"It is fatally flawed. It will be bogged down in the courts for months and months. And it won’t stop the boats. It is a further betrayal of Tory voters and the decent patriotic majority who want to see this insanity brought to an end.”

But number 10 said the Rwandan government would have walked away from its partnership with the UK if it had chosen to ignore international law.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Cleverly said: "It is a Bill which is lawful, it is fair and it is necessary, because people will only stop coming here illegally when they know that they cannot stay here, that they will be detained and quickly removed to a safe third country.

“Because it is only by breaking the cycle and delivering a deterrent that we will remove the incentive for people to be smuggled here and stop the boats.

“This legislation builds on the illegal migration acts that this House passed this summer and compliments the basket of other measures that the UK Government has employed to end illegal migration.”

'We've got the home secretary making the statement but rumours that the immigration minister has resigned - where is he?'

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the Conservative Party was in "total chaos", saying: "This is the desperate dying days of a party ripping itself apart, clearly totally out of ideas, lost any sense of leadership or direction."

Pat McFadden, Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator, responding to Mr Jenrick’s resignation, said: "This latest chaotic chapter demonstrates why the country is ready for change. And Keir Starmer’s changed Labour Party stands ready.

"The British people deserve a Government that will fix the issues that matter to working people, not a Tory circus of gimmicks and leadership posturing.

"Only Labour can deliver the change this country needs, on the cost of living, on bringing down energy bills and making work pay. It’s time we got Britain’s future back."

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