Jenrick vows amendments to Rwanda bill as Starmer tells Sunak to come clean on asylum plans

6 January 2024, 17:20 | Updated: 6 January 2024, 22:51

Robert Jenrick has vowed to amend the Government's Rwanda bill to make it - after he resigned in protest at the bill last year.
Robert Jenrick has vowed to amend the Government's Rwanda bill to make it - after he resigned in protest at the bill last year. Picture: Getty

By Chay Quinn

Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has vowed to amend the Government's Rwanda bill - as Labour urges the Prime Minister to come clean on his previous doubts about the controversial plans.

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Mr Jenrick said he is prepared to put forward changes to the Prime Minister's Rwanda legislation to ensure it is "sufficiently robust".

Mr Jenrick said he plans to "lay amendments to the Bill next week" if Rishi Sunak has not strengthened it since it last appeared before MPs.

The Safety of Rwanda legislation is due to return to the House of Commons this month as Rishi Sunak looks to overcome legal hurdles to his flagship immigration policy.

Read More: Talks with airlines to take migrants to Rwanda have not started, James Cleverly admits

It comes after former immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned last month over the Prime Minister's Rwanda Bill, claiming it would not act as a strong enough deterrent to stop asylum seekers arriving via small boats.

Jenrick's intervention came as Labour calls on the Prime Minister to be "honest with the public" by publishing papers that reportedly indicate that he was unsure about the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer seen leaving the Global...
Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer seen leaving the Global... Picture: Getty

Rishi Sunak's Safety of Rwanda Bill is due to return to the House of Commons this month as the Prime Minister looks to overcome legal hurdles to his flagship policy of stopping migrant boats from crossing the Channel.

But despite the Conservative Party leader having made the Rwanda scheme central to his premiership since entering Downing Street in October 2022, a report has suggested that he was not convinced of the plan's effectiveness while serving as chancellor.

According to No 10 papers seen by the BBC, Mr Sunak is described as believing the "deterrent won't work".

Labour officials said the Prime Minister should "come clean about his reservations about the Rwanda scheme as chancellor" and called for the papers seen by the broadcaster to be published.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Sunak had become the latest senior Conservative to indicate they "don't believe the Government's plans will work".

Ms Cooper has also previously suggested Home Secretary James Cleverly, before being moved to the Home Office, had privately described the Rwanda policy as "batshit" - a term he said he did not remember using.

Conservative Party leader Mr Sunak has said he wants to have deportation flights taking migrants to Kigali by the spring, following his pledge 12 months ago to stop boats of migrants from crossing the English Channel.

Read More: Talks with airlines to take migrants to Rwanda have not started, James Cleverly admits

Read More: Labour slammed for 'drawing up new Rwanda plan', as Starmer aims to wards off Tory immigration criticis

Rishi Sunak
Mr Jenrick, once seen as a close ally of Mr Sunak, quit his Home Office role in December following the publication of the Rwanda Bill. Picture: Getty

The Bill passed at second reading with a healthy majority of 44 votes during its first Commons test last month.

But Mr Jenrick and sacked home secretary Suella Braverman were among a tranche of high-profile Conservative MPs to abstain on the vote, with hardline right-wing Tory factions threatening to vote down the Bill next time if it is not tightened.

Mr Jenrick, once seen as a close ally of Mr Sunak, quit his Home Office role in December following the publication of the Rwanda Bill, arguing that the draft law "will not succeed" in its current guise.

The Bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation, if approved by Parliament, gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not go as far as allowing the UK Government to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, as hardliners have demanded.

Mr Jenrick, speaking to Sky News on Saturday, said: "I don't think that the Bill that is going through Parliament is sufficient.

"If we say we are going to do whatever it takes (to stop the boats), we have to do whatever it takes and that means strengthening that Bill."

The Newark MP added: "I hope that he (Rishi Sunak) will strengthen the Bill that is coming through Parliament.

"And I have been very clear that if he doesn't do that, then I will lay amendments to the Bill next week to make sure that it is the piece of legislation necessary, that it is sufficiently robust to do the job that the British public expect."

The threat of changes to the legislation from the right follows reports that Mr Sunak had doubts when he was chancellor over whether the Rwanda scheme would stop Channel crossings.

A placard seen on the roadside with the protester in the...
A placard seen on the roadside with the protester in the... Picture: Getty

The BBC said it had seen No 10 papers from March 2022, a month before the concept was announced by then prime minister Boris Johnson, which showed that Mr Sunak was not convinced of the plan's effectiveness.

The documents suggest Mr Sunak felt "hotels are cheaper" than reception centres to house migrants and that he was also concerned about the cost of sending asylum seekers to Africa and wanted to limit the numbers.

The corporation said the documents revealed the "chancellor wants to pursue smaller volumes initially" with 500 flown to Rwanda in the first year of the scheme, instead of the proposed 1,500.

He then proposed "3,000 instead of 5,000 in years two and three", according to the report.

Mr Sunak is described as believing the "deterrent won't work".

Downing Street this week refused to endorse comments made by Home Secretary James Cleverly, who replaced Mrs Braverman, after the Cabinet minister told LBC he wanted to see all migrant boat crossings stopped by the end of the year.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said he was "not going to set out a deadline" but repeated Mr Sunak's commitment to wanting the first removals to take place by the spring.

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