Sunak pressured from all sides as future of Rwanda bill hangs in balance

Rishi Sunak.
Rishi Sunak. Credit: PA

The home secretary is expected tomorrow to toughen up what the prime minister said today to GB News, namely that he would over-rule the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if the ECHR were to frustrate an airlift of asylum seekers to Rwanda, under a so-called Rule 39 order.

That is what right-wing Tory MP critics of Sunak's contentious Safety of Rwanda bill say they have been told by Tory whips and emissaries of the PM. They expect James Cleverly to promise at the Despatch Box that the PM would ignore the European Court in those circumstances.

"The whips are panicking, behaving like headless chickens," said one MP.

But the Tory rebels say they won't be bought off by a statement to that effect from the Commons despatch box because "it would not have the force of law, it would not be binding".

They continue to insist that Sunak must cease his opposition to amendments to the bill, laid by Bill Cash and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, that would formally write into UK law that Rule 39 instructions by the European Court would not apply in the UK.

"If they are not prepared to change the bill to that effect, then obviously they don't mean it," said another Tory rebel.

The prime minister's advisers insist, however, he does mean it, but that if he were to change the legislation further to more explicitly breach international law then Rwanda would rip up the whole deal with the UK.

Jenrick, Cash and their colleagues don't believe Rwanda would walk away. And in any case they view the bill as pointless if not toughened up in the way they want. They say they are prepared to vote with Labour to bring it down at third reading, which could happen as soon as Wednesday night, if it is not amended.

But Sunak is also boxed in by the likes of former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and the left of his party: the One Nation caucus - who say that if the bill is changed to more conspicuously breach the UK's international obligations or if Sunak were to cave to the right of the party, they too would vote with Labour to kill the bill.

There will be six hours of debate and voting tomorrow and a probable vote on Cash's amendment. However, the relevant Jenrick amendment won't be considered till Wednesday. About 60 Tory rebels support those amendments.

The Tory rebels also want Sunak to remove Clause 4 of his bill, which would allow asylum seekers to cite their personal circumstances in a legal appeal against expulsion to Rwanda. Removing this clause would also be an unambiguous breach of international human rights law.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…