Tory rebels expecting assurances over controversial Illegal Migration Bill

The Government is expected to defuse a Tory rebellion over the Illegal Migration Bill by offering assurances to those wanting to toughen up the controversial proposals.

The legislation aims to stop people claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means, including those crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The Bill has been denounced by the UN’s refugee agency as an effective “asylum ban” and has also faced objections from different groups within the Conservative Party.

A group of right-wing Tory MPs have signalled that it does not go far enough, with some calling for ministers to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to drive through tighter border controls and prevent them being stifled by the courts.

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak takes part in a Q&A session during a Connect event in Chelmsford, Essex (Kin Cheung/PA)

Others on the liberal wing want to see Prime Minister Rishi Sunak commit to establishing safe routes via which asylum seekers can come to Britain.

Demonstrators protesting against the Bill gathered in Parliament Square on Monday as the measures returned to the Commons.

Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash said he and others on the right of the party have put forward “constructive” amendments, on which he expects the Government to engage with them.

The chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee told the Commons: “This Bill to stop the boats is both legally and politically necessary because illegal migration is out of control, some part of which is because there’s a failure to distinguish between genuine refugees and others who are illegal and economic migrants.

“We must stop people making these hazardous and lethal journeys in small boats. We must stop the criminality, we must stop illegal migration and the cost of this and the impact of this on our local and national resources.”

Sir Bill said he believes the Bill “can achieve that objective with goodwill” after he pointed to Tory amendments, including his to ensure the only way to prevent a person’s removal is through a successful suspensive claim.

He said: “We have asked the Government to engage with us constructively on these amendments and give us firm assurances today on the floor of the House to improve the Bill in the light of our amendments, and on the basis that they do give such assurances, which I understand they will, I will not press my amendment to a vote.”

The legislation would see asylum seekers arriving through unauthorised means being detained without bail or judicial review for 28 days before being “swiftly removed” to their home country or a “safe third country” such as Rwanda.

Conservative former communities secretary Simon Clarke urged ministers to do more to make sure the Bill is not subject to legal challenges on human rights grounds.

Mr Clarke, who urged MPs to back his amendment aimed at preventing several sections of the Human Rights Act from having an impact on the Bill, said: “Ultimately we know our best and probably only chance for this legislation from being entangled in human rights law is for this place to be absolutely clear and unambiguous about our intentions.

“It feels to me that my amendment flows in that spirit and that we should show the determination now, not after the fact, if and when the fears that many of us have in this House have been realised, to make our intentions clear on the face of the Bill.”

Illegal Migration Bill
Danny Kruger MP, leader of the rebellion against the Illegal Migration Bill, in Downing Street (Yui Mok/PA)

Conservative Danny Kruger (Devizes) said: “The new framework we need needs to honour the founding principle of both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Refugee Convention, the principle that the primary responsibility for managing asylum rests with the nation state.”

He added: “My amendment ensures that the policy of removal can go ahead notwithstanding any decision of the European Court. No more pyjama injunctions in the middle of the night.”

Mr Kruger said he “looks forward to working” with the Government ahead of the Bill’s report stage to ensure it is “watertight”.

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton said he would push his plans for required safe and legal routes to a vote unless there were “substantial reassurances” from the Government.

Mr Loughton said it “isn’t good enough” for the Government to say they will come up with some safe and legal routes after the passage of the Bill.

For Labour, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock called the Bill “entirely counterproductive” and said they would oppose it.

He said: “It’s only going to make all of the challenges that we face worse. We on these benches believe in supporting legislation that is actually addressing the substance of an issue, rather than chasing tabloid headlines.”

SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald said the proposals should be “scrapped entirely” as they ride “roughshod over international human rights law”.

Earlier, Mr Sunak sought to play down suggestions he and Home Secretary Suella Braverman were at odds over the Bill, following reports she has been privately encouraging rebels on the right in order to pressurise him to toughen up the legislation.

Speaking during a visit to Essex, Mr Sunak said he was confident they had designed a Bill that was “robust and effective” while remaining compliant with the UK’s obligations under international law.

Downing Street dismissed suggestions that Ms Braverman was being used as a “right-wing sock puppet” by Tory rebels seeking to dilute the role of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Bill will complete its first day of committee stage on Monday and continue for a second day on Tuesday.