Rishi Sunak deploys Whitehall officials to Rwanda as Tory revolt grows

Conservative MPs are warning the PM he is facing electoral ‘catastrophe’ unless he tackles illegal immigration
Conservative MPs are warning the PM he is facing electoral ‘catastrophe’ unless he tackles illegal immigration - Leon Neal/Getty

Rishi Sunak will station Home Office officials in Rwanda as he tries to see off an escalating Tory rebellion over his small boats policy, The Telegraph can reveal.

The decision to deploy UK officials to support the African nation’s asylum system will be seen as vindication for Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, who pressed for the move while in government.

It comes as Conservative MPs on the Right of the party warned the Prime Minister that he is facing electoral “catastrophe” – including the Tories being reduced to a “rump” of 60 seats – if he fails to tackle illegal migration.

One backbencher said they believed “dozens” of letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak had already been submitted to the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs.

The Prime Minister is expected to unveil a new treaty with Rwanda this week in response to the Supreme Court ruling that the scheme to deport illegal migrants to the country is unlawful.

‘As robust as possible’

A senior government source said preparations were underway to “step up Home Office people who will be doing training and assisting with case working in Rwanda, so that their system is as robust as possible”.

The source said that the Supreme Court’s ruling would also be addressed by a legally binding treaty commitment from Rwanda that it will not deport any migrants under the scheme to third countries, which was one of the chief concerns raised by the judges.

And they said the judges had not been able to take into account further progress in Rwanda’s asylum system that had been achieved since the legal action started.

Mr Sunak’s plan to block legal challenges to his Rwanda policy through a Bill declaring the country safe has been met with derision in some quarters. The former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption called it “discreditable” and suggested it was akin to saying “black is white”.

However, the government source said: “When people like Jonathan Sumption not unreasonably say Parliament can’t declare black to be white, what they’re not appreciating is that there’s actually been a year of additional work already with the government of Rwanda to improve their processes, that we are committed to going further than that, and that the treaty will itself fundamentally change the nature of the way people are looked after in Rwanda.”

A second government source pointed out that some Home Office officials were already on the ground in Rwanda working on the new treaty.

The new Home Secretary James Cleverly said ministers were “prepared” for the Supreme Court ruling.

“We have been working on a new treaty with Rwanda, which will be ratified without delay,” he said. “It will guarantee in law that those who are relocated from the UK to Rwanda will be protected against removal from Rwanda.”

‘Deterrent effect’

The Home Secretary said that illegal migration was “immoral” as well as “unfair”, and claimed the Rwanda scheme was not a waste of time or money because it is already having a deterrent effect on would-be migrants.

However, Mr Sunak is facing mounting criticism from Tory MPs that his policy does not go far enough.

Critics want Mr Sunak to toughen his Bill through the insertion of “notwithstanding” clauses that would disapply the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and other international agreements – an approach advocated by Mrs Braverman.

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick has met with concerned MPs and is understood to be pushing for a more expansive approach to the Bill.

The veteran MP Sir Bill Cash said: “If you don’t deal with the problems of the judgment comprehensively and use clear and unambiguous language in the emergency legislation, then we are going to be drawn into another problem with the courts.”

If the Government does not voluntarily strengthen the legislation it is believed that upwards of 40 MPs could rebel.

A Tory MP said: “If they bring forward legislation which doesn’t pass muster, like-minded people will try to amend it to make it stronger… I don’t think they comprehend the gravity of the disillusionment.”

The Prime Minister’s response to the Supreme Court defeat has increased the rancour in the parliamentary party, with some MPs suggesting that Mr Sunak could even face a leadership challenge.

A former cabinet minister said: “The response some people are giving is that we are facing a catastrophe and how much worse can it be?

“People are weighing up whether changing our leader could make things any worse than it currently is.”

An MP on the Right of the party said: “Anybody who has a brain knows that he cannot remain in place.”

They said Mr Sunak was “Theresa May in trousers” and that he would take the party to a “rump” of “60 seats, 70 if we’re lucky”.

Another MP said they “wouldn’t be surprised if there were another challenge”, while a third said: “I think it’s worth the chance.”

‘Running out of time’

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Mrs Braverman warned Mr Sunak that he was “running out of time” to deliver on stopping the boats ahead of the election.

Accusing him of blocking her from introducing emergency legislation for several months, she said: “I’m very glad he changed his view in the last few days but this needs to be meaningful change in the law and tweaking and fine-tuning is not going to cut it.”

She also suggested the Prime Minister had shown a “lack of moral leadership” in response to pro-Palestinian protests and called for a change in the law to criminalise chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

In a column for The Telegraph last week, Mrs Braverman said that to get flights off the ground Mr Sunak had to amend the Rwanda agreement to address the Supreme Court’s concerns about the country, including by “embedding UK observers and independent reviewers of asylum decisions”.

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