Rwanda: Sunak's authority under threat as right-wing Tories urge him to 'pull' legislation

ITV News' Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports as MPs scrutinise Rishi Sunak's beleaguered Rwanda deportation plan

A group of lawyers convened by right-wing Tory MPs doesn't believe Rishi Sunak's Rwanda legislation "goes far enough", putting the prime minister's authority under renewed threat.

Mr Sunak's emergency Rwanda legislation “provides a partial and incomplete solution” but does not go “far enough to deliver the policy as intended”, a so-called Star Chamber of lawyers for the Tory European Research Group (ERG) said.

Hardline Brexiteers from the ERG and other right-wing factions of the Tory Party convened a summit on Monday to discuss the proposed legislation, which the PM introduced as a last ditch attempt to fulfill his pledge of "stopping the boats".

The group's chairman Mark Francois called on Mr Sunak to "pull" the legislation, telling journalists: "It's three strikes and you're out."

Mr Sunak, who is currently giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry, will be desperately hoping his fractured party can unite behind the Bill when it's put before a vote on Tuesday.

A meeting convened by the New Conservatives on Monday said the Rwanda Bill needs “major surgery or replacement”.

A spokesperson for the group said: “More than 40 colleagues met tonight to discuss the Bill.

“Every member of that discussion said the Bill needs major surgery or replacement and they will be making that plain in the morning to the PM at breakfast and over the next 24 hours.”

The government has insisted its Rwanda scheme, through which asylum seekers in the UK would be deported to Kigali, is a key part of the PM's plan to crackdown on illegal migration.

Mr Sunak opted to give ministers the power to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act in a bid to "block" legal challenges to flights carrying illegal migrants, and appease those on the Tory-right who were calling for tougher action.

Outlining the Bill last week, Mr Sunak argued that it "blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights from Rwanda taking off."

"The only extremely narrow exception will be if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm," he added.

"We will get flights off the ground, we will deter illegal migrants from coming in and we will finally stop the boats."

ITV News Political Editor explains if Rishi Sunak's leadership is truly under threat as right-wing Tories rally against him

But, crucially, the Bill doesn't give MPs the power to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which is what hardliners, including former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and now former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, had demanded.

Giving their verdict on Monday, the Star Chamber of lawyers, led by veteran Tory MP Sir Bill Cash, said "very significant amendments" are needed to the legislation.

"The prime minister may well be right when he claims that this is the ‘toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by a UK Government’, but we do not believe that it goes far enough to deliver the policy as intended,” they said in a summary of their opinion.

Brexit loyalist Mark Francois says 'it's three strikes and you're out' as he describes Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill as not being 'fit for purpose'

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Brexit loyalist and Tory MP Mark Francois called on the government to "pull the Bill" because it has "so many holes in it".

"The government would be best advised to pull the Bill and come up with a revised version that works better than this one which has so many holes in it," he said.

Asked whether the proposal risked delaying the £290 million scheme even further, Mr Francois said: "With the right will and a bit of overtime, that can be done comparatively quickly. “That is infinitely preferable to powering on with a piece of legislation which at the end of the day is not fit for purpose.” He refused to say whether he still had confidence in the prime minister, whose leadership is on the line if the Bill fails to gain enough support from Tory MPs.

In a rare move intended to win over critics, the government produced a summary of its own legal advice in support of the scheme on Monday in which it said there is a "clear lawful basis on which a responsible government may proceed".

On Monday afternoon, Downing Street insisted it would “continue to listen to MPs on their views”, and the second reading will go ahead as planned in spite of pressure for the legislation to be withdrawn.

Sir Bill Cash presented the findings of his so-called ‘star chamber’ to groups on the Tory right on Monday. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Mr Sunak's former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, dramatically quit the role last week after the PM released details of the newly drafted Bill, saying it was a "triumph of hope over experience" and doesn't go far enough.

However, Home Office modelling, seen by The Times newspaper, suggests that 99.5% of individual legal challenges submitted by asylum seekers will fail to block their deportation under the Bill - an argument Mr Sunak will no doubt use to appease his right-wing critics.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman were among those attending, alongside senior MPs Sir Simon Clarke and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Danny Kruger, who leads the New Conservative grouping, welcomed MPs into his office on the parliamentary estate from 6pm onwards.. Asked whether ERG members would be told to vote against the Bill, Mark Francois, the group's deputy chair, said: “You don’t always announce what you’re going to do well before the bell was ringing.” New Conservatives co-chairman Danny Kruger said: “We’ll be discussing later with colleagues in light of the report that we’ve just received and having further conversations with government over the course of the next 24 hours.”

The more moderate wing of One Nation Conservatives will also hold a meeting in Parliament on Monday before releasing a statement on their judgement, ahead of Tuesday's crunch vote.

'I just think Gary Lineker should get on with commenting on football and stop meddling in these other areas', Grant Shapps says

The pressure on Mr Sunak was added to on Monday after Gary Lineker was among the high-profile signatories of a letter demanding that he scrap his Rwanda scheme.

Succession star Brian Cox also signed the letter, which branded Britain's refugee system "ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly", urging political leaders to come up with a "fair new plan for refugees". The correspondence was also signed by women’s rights campaigner Helen Pankhurst, Hotel Rwanda star Sophie Okonedo and television chef Big Zuu, who is the son of a refugee from Sierra Leone. Speaking to broadcasters on Monday, the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps defended the PM's Rwanda scheme and advised Gary Lineker to "get on with commenting on football and stop meddling in these other areas".

Mr Lineker responded on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, saying Mr Shapps' comments were "tad rich coming from someone who can't even stick to one name."

He later posted a link to the latest Rest Is Football podcast episode, commenting: "Here you go. Doing my best to focus on football. New episode. Hope you like it."

A BBC spokesperson said: "We aren’t going to comment on individuals or indeed individual tweets.

"While the guidance does allow people to talk about issues that matter to them, it is also clear that individuals should be civil and not call into question anyone’s character.

"We discuss issues that arise with presenters as necessary.”

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