Tory right deliver legal rebuke to Sunak’s Rwanda plan

<span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Rishi Sunak has been dealt a fresh blow over his Rwanda legislation as a legal assessment for the Tory right has concluded that the prime minister’s plans are not fit for purpose.

Bill Cash, who chairs the “star chamber” of lawyers for the European Research Group, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that “at present” the legislation is not “sufficiently watertight to meet the government’s policy objectives” such as circumventing individual legal challenges by people seeking to remain in the UK.

However, Cash believes parliament “can legislate to override the provisions of international treaties, provided it does so in such clear and unambiguous terms that its intention cannot be misunderstood”.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, has also disputed the prime minister’s assertion that if the bill had gone further, Rwanda’s government would have “collapsed” the deal. She described the claim as “rather strange”.

Braverman, who was sacked by Sunak in November, told the Sunday Telegraph: “I’ve been to Rwanda several times and I have spoken to the Rwandan government a lot. It never once raised any kind of concerns like this.”

The MP for Fareham added that the clause in the safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) bill allowing legal challenges from individuals would add “a minimum of six months” to the scheduling of deportation flights.

Sunak urged Labour to back his plans on Saturday night, telling Keir Starmer to “rise above political games” and “act in the national interest” by supporting the bill.

The government’s legal team has said the contentious Rwanda immigration scheme had a “50% at best” prospect of beginning deportations before the next general election.

The government’s legal advice said there was a significant risk of the European court of human rights blocking deportation flights under the scheme, the Times reported near the end of a tumultuous week for Sunak.

The advice was signed off by the UK’s top legal adviser, Sir James Eadie, who led the government’s supreme court defence of the policy, the newspaper reported.

The new Rwanda bill would allow ministers to ignore injunctions by the European court in Strasbourg, which has caused disagreement within the party over whether this would be a breach of the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights – a point Sunak has denied.

The bill has split the Conservative party. Robert Jenrick stood down from his post as immigration minister this week over the legislation, describing it as “a triumph of hope over experience”. He quit the frontbench after it was revealed that the legislation did not allow the government to override the international laws that have prevented it from sending asylum seekers to central Africa.

The legislation will face further scrutiny next week, after the Home Office was ordered to reveal the full costs of the Rwanda deal. The costs of the scheme have soared from £140m to £290m.

Writing in the Telegraph on Saturday, Jenrick said his party would face the “red-hot fury of voters at the ballot box” unless it imposed more stringent measures to slash immigration levels. He accused Sunak of failing to keep his promise “to do whatever it takes” to stop people crossing the Channel on small boats.

Gavin Barwell, a Tory peer and former chief of staff to Theresa May, described the Conservative party as feeling “unleadable”, likening it to the crisis facing May in 2018-19 over Brexit.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are what appear to be irreconcilable differences between one wing of the party that is concerned that the legislation breaks international law obligations, and another wing of the party that wants to go even further.”

He hinted that there were Conservative figures who were sowing division to further their own political ambitions. When pressed to name individuals, he said Suella Braverman was “asking for things that are undeliverable”, and that Sunak would have been “taken aback” by Jenrick’s resignation.

Barwell added that the immigration row was coming “at the exclusion of a whole suite of other issues” that many voters may have felt were “equally important”. “Voters also have huge concerns about the cost of living, about the state of our NHS, and some of our other public services,” he said. “The Conservative party has got to speak with equal passion about all of those issues.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to doing whatever it takes to stop the boats and get flights to Rwanda off the ground as soon as possible. That’s why we have addressed the supreme court’s findings, and brought forward the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced to parliament.

“Rwanda is ready to welcome large numbers of people relocated there. It is a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees, and our safety of Rwanda bill will make this absolutely clear in UK law.”