Rishi Sunak warned giving in to Tory right on asylum bill will ‘erode trust’
Rishi Sunak has been warned by Tory moderates not to cave in to a push for the party’s right to give UK courts the power to ignore rulings by judges at the European Court of Human Rights.
Home secretary Suella Braverman is said to be considering a move to toughen the Illegal Migration Bill and ban Strasbourg court orders to remove a barrier to the deportation of migrants arriving on small boats.
But Tory moderates told The Independent that flouting decisions by the court – which oversees the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – would “erode” hard-won public trust.
Ms Braverman is in talks to head off a rebellion by 60 Tory MPs on the right who want to stop Britain from following decisions made by the European court, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
As the bill returns to the Commons on Monday, rebels on the right have backed amendments that would stop British judges using legal precedent from Strasbourg when considering deportation cases – a move which halted Rwanda flights last year.
Tory ministers are thought to fear the court cannot be defied without breaching the breaching the UK’s obligation to uphold the European convention of human rights.
In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction – via its rule 39 – that effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.
Ms Braverman told reporters on her recent trip to Rwanda that she was “encouraged” by “constructive” talks with Strasbourg to overhaul court injunctions. The government has requested a higher threshold for any rule 39 injunction on attempted deportation flights.
But Ms Braverman could reportedly insert a new clause into the bill banning rule 39 orders from applying in the UK if exemptions can’t be negotiated with the Strasbourg court.
Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told The Independent that Ms Braverman should ignore the push from the right. “There is simply no way this bill will secure parliamentary support unless it’s fully compliant with international laws, including our commitments to the ECHR.”
The defence committee chair added: “The only reason why it’s suggested we might leave ECHR is to shore up support from a corner of our party. But every time such comments are made the trust we are beginning to rebuild with the British public thanks to Rishi Sunak’s leadership is eroded.”
On the Strasbourg-focused amendments proposed by right-wing Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, one former Tory cabinet minister said: “I would hope that the government would oppose those amendments [on the European court and EHRC].”
As the bill returns to the Commons on Monday for its committee stage, moderate Tories are trying to win support for their own amendments aimed at creating stronger protections against child detention.
Campaigners and MPs from across the House have condemned a move in the bill allowing the detention of families with children – reversing a ban introduced by the David Cameron-led coalition government a decade ago.
Equalities committee chair Caroline Nokes has shared her “absolute horror” at the reversal, while former justice secretary Robert Buckland said the government “shouldn’t be locking children up – it’s not right”.
It comes as Labour propose an amendment that would force the Sunak government to offer a framework for a new asylum returns deal with EU states within three months of the bill passing.
Mr Sunak agreed on a recent Paris visit that the UK would pay France to step up patrols to crack down on small boat crossings. But he was unable to get a deal that would replace the so-called Dublin convention – which allowed some asylum seekers to be returned – lost to Britain after Brexit.
Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency’s representative to the UK has warned that the Illegal Migration Bill “effectively extinguishes the right to seek asylum in the UK for all but a very few refugees”.
Vicky Tennant, of the UNHCR, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “We’re very concerned that this sets a global precedent, it effectively extinguishes the right, as you’ve said, to seek asylum in the UK for all but a very few refugees.”
The UN representative added: “If other countries were to follow suit it would have a very significant impact on refugee protection globally.”