A “star chamber” of Conservative lawyers has concluded that Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plans are not fit for purpose, The Telegraph can disclose.
The panel, whose advice was awaited by many MPs on the Right of the party, has decided that the legislation is insufficiently “watertight” to avoid protracted legal challenges by illegal migrants seeking to remain in the UK.
The verdict risks creating a major crisis for the Prime Minister after Robert Jenrick, his immigration minister, quit in the belief that the plans were too weak. Tory MPs are deciding whether to support the legislation on Tuesday.
Losing the vote would amount to a devastating blow to Mr Sunak’s authority, with one backbencher saying the Prime Minister’s position would be “perilous”.
The last time a government Bill was defeated at a similar stage – the second reading – was in 1986; however, only 29 Tory MPs would need to vote against the legislation to wipe out Mr Sunak’s majority.
It came as Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, who clashed with Mr Sunak over migration, casts doubt on the Prime Minister’s “rather strange claim” that if the legislation had gone further the Rwandan government would have “collapsed” the deal.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Mrs Braverman says: “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.”
She also warned that the Government’s past experience showed that the clause in the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill allowing legal challenges by individual migrants will add “a minimum of six months” to the wait for deportation flights to take off.
Mrs Braverman also said that the anti-Semitism that had emerged in weekly protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict was proof of her claim in a speech in September that multiculturalism had failed.
“I think it has utterly failed in parts of our country, where communities are not integrating, they’re not learning the language, they have values totally at odds with British values. I think that’s been borne out by some of the hate marches that we’ve seen since October 7,” she said.
Separately, Mrs Braverman said she was pushing to introduce sweeping restrictions on legal migration as early as last autumn but was “blocked” by Downing Street as the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to meet her to discuss the issue over the course of a year.
PM warned Bill was ‘self harm’
Meanwhile, The Telegraph understands that Mr Jenrick privately warned Mr Sunak last week that proceeding with the Rwanda legislation in its current form would amount to “an act of self harm”.
Government legal advice stated that it stood only a 50 per cent chance of enabling flights to take off before a general election next year
The European Research Group’s “star chamber” of legal advisers, chaired by Sir Bill Cash, has also come to the conclusion that the Bill will fail in its objectives.
The legislation is intended to provide the legal protections needed to allow deportation flights to take off for Rwanda, in a move that the Prime Minister believes would act as a deterrent to stop boats illegally crossing the Channel.
Writing in The Telegraph, Sir Bill Cash, who chairs the European Research Group’s “star chamber”, says that “at present” the legislation is not “sufficiently watertight to meet the Government’s policy objectives”.
In remarks that appear to advocate for a clearer disapplication of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, Sir Bill insists that 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.
“In such circumstances, the courts will follow the explicit legislation to the letter.”
Sir Bill’s panel is expected to circulate its full written conclusions to MPs on Monday. But Mrs Braverman and Mr Jenrick have argued that the Bill will allow individuals to “concoct” claims that would, at the least, help them to delay their removal.
The former ministers have also raised concerns that rather than categorically blocking the Strasbourg court’s Rule 39 orders that grounded deportation flights last year, the decision over whether to use a new power to ignore such injunctions would be left with the Government.
Mrs Braverman said: “I know that our Attorney General has advised that to ignore a Rule 39 injunction would be a breach of international law, so therefore as it stands Rule 39s will block flights.”
Sunak stands firm
On Saturday, Mr Sunak vowed to press ahead with the legislation in the face of criticism from his former ministers. He said: “The Conservatives are on the public’s side – and we will push on with our plan to stop the boats.”
In a speech on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer is expected to accuse the Conservatives of ignoring obligations “to democracy, the rule of law” and “serving our country”.
A senior Conservative MP said they believed it was “highly likely that there will be votes against” the Bill on Tuesday.
However, a Tory on the Right of the party said they would be counselling fellow rebels to “bide your time” in order to pressure the Government to amend the “flawed” Bill at a later stage. Such an approach could result in many abstentions.
The One Nation Group of centrist MPs is also considering the Bill. Damian Green, its chairman, said: “The powers of ministers to take decisions on their own on individual cases, that’s one of the questions that’s been raised, and also the aspect of legislation asserting that Rwanda is safe. Those are two concerns we have.”
A No 10 source insisted Mrs Braverman and Mr Sunak had “almost fortnightly bilateral meetings at which she could raise what she wanted to raise”. A source close to Mrs Braverman disputed the claim.
Addressing legal migration, the source added: “The PM has to balance growing the economy with bringing down the levels of net migration, which he has been clear are far too high. That’s why in the spring he took the toughest action anyone had ever taken to bring down migration numbers. And it’s why just last week he took even tougher action to cut levels by another 300,000.”