Plan B under way: Rishi Sunak tells stormy PMQs he may change law to revive Rwanda plan following court defeat

15 November 2023, 12:25 | Updated: 15 November 2023, 13:31

Sunak said he is preparing a new treaty with Rwanda
Sunak said he is preparing a new treaty with Rwanda. Picture: Alamy/Parliament TV

By Will Taylor

Rishi Sunak has confirmed he has been working on a new agreement with Rwanda he hopes will allow the government to lawfully send asylum seekers there.

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The Prime Minister also said he is willing to make changes to "domestic legal frameworks" after the Supreme Court said the migrant plan was unlawful, meaning it cannot go ahead in its current form.

He is now facing a backlash from Tory MPs who have already made demands to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and alter the Human Rights Act.

Speaking in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions in the wake of the ruling, Sunak said: "This morning, the Supreme Court gave a judgement on the Rwanda plan. They confirmed that the principle of removing asylum seekers to a safe third country is lawful.

"There are further element that they want additional certainty and noted that changes can be delivered in the future to address those issues.

Read more: Rishi Sunak vows to 'stop the boats' despite Rwanda ruling, as he says sending migrants to a third country is lawful

Rishi Sunak said he is preparing a Rwanda plan B after the initial version of the deal was quashed
Rishi Sunak said he is preparing a Rwanda plan B after the initial version of the deal was quashed. Picture: Parliament TV

"The government has been working already on a new treaty with Rwanda and we will finalise that in light of today's judgement.

"And furthermore, if necessary, I am prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks.

"Let me assure the House, my commitment to stopping the boats is unwavering."

His comments came before a fiery clash with Sir Keir Starmer over the appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary.

Read more: Rishi's Rwanda plan is unlawful: Government's flagship policy to send migrants to Africa blocked by Supreme Court

The former PM has been appointed to the House of Lords to serve in the government.

Earlier, the Supreme Court said it agreed with the Court of Appeal that the Rwanda scheme is unlawful.

The plan would see people who arrive in the UK illegally get sent to Rwanda to be processed for asylum there. They would have no ability to claim asylum in Britain.

Sir Keir Starmer criticised Sunak's appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary
Sir Keir Starmer criticised Sunak's appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary. Picture: Parliament TV

Rwanda would either offer them asylum there or deport them back to a country they are entitled to reside in.

For most, that would involve them being sent back to the country they had left in the first place - potentially opening them up to persecution there.

The Supreme Court pointed to evidence showing people would be put at risk of "refoulement" - being forced back to the country they had left - and would face a state with a "poor human rights record" that the UK had criticised two years ago for "extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture".

That sparked a backlash, with Tory MPs lining up to call for action in response to the ruling.

Rishi Sunak hoped the Rwanda deal would help stop the boats
Rishi Sunak hoped the Rwanda deal would help stop the boats. Picture: Alamy

Lee Anderson, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said the government should "ignore the laws" and "just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda".

"I think the British people have been very patient, I've been very patient, and now they're demanding action. And this has sort of forced our hand a little bit now," he said.

"My take is we should just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda and show strength."

Jonathan Gullis, of the New Conservatives faction with in the party, said the government should introduce a so-called "notwithstanding bill" that would override the law - including treaties Britain has signed up to - so it could pass without courts blocking it.

There have been repeated calls from his own party to leave the ECHR and modify or scrap the Human Rights Act.

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