Tories in turmoil as Rishi faces Rwanda revolt after Robert Jenrick quits over 'doomed' bill

7 December 2023, 00:00

Sunak faces a revolt over his attempts to get flights to Rwanda off the ground
Sunak faces a revolt over his attempts to get flights to Rwanda off the ground. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The Conservatives are facing a brewing civil war after immigration minister Robert Jenrick quit the Government over Rishi Sunak's emergency legislation that aims to save his Rwanda asylum scheme.

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Speaking to LBC's Andrew Marr on Wednesday evening, Laura Farris confirmed that Mr Jenrick had stepped down from his role following the emergency legislation announcement.

In a letter of resignation to Rishi Sunak, posted to Twitter, Robert Jenrick said the small boats crisis was doing "untold damage" to the country and the Government needed to place "national interests highly contested interpretations of international law".

The former minister said he felt compelled to resign - just hours after the emergency legislation was announced - because he has “such strong disagreements with the direction of the Government’s policy on immigration”.

Mr Sunak hit back at his former minister, accusing Mr Jenrick of "fundamentally misunderstanding" the new immigration law and said "if we oust the courts entirely we would collapse the entire scheme".

It signalled a huge blow to the prime minister, who is desperately trying to get asylum seeker flights to Rwanda, with Mr Jenrick acting as a long-time ally of Mr Suank prior to his resignation.

Laura Farris confirms Robert Jenrick has resigned

Tory MPs have bemoaned the "mess" their party has become, with some speculating there could even be another leadership contest on the cards.

Tory MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns argued Mr Jenrick's resignation 'may be the death knell' for Mr Sunak's time in Downing Street.

It came after the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman warned the Conservatives face "electoral oblivion in a matter of months" if they introduce emergency Rwanda legislation which is "destined to fail".

The former home secretary delivered the warning in a personal statement to the Commons focused on what she called "mass, uncontrolled, illegal immigration" involving thousands of "mostly young men, many with values and social mores at odds with our own".

Ms Braverman, who was sacked from her Cabinet job last month, questioned if the Government understands the "unsustainable pressure" placed on public finances and services, and the impact on community cohesion and national security.

Read More: Robert Jenrick quits as immigration minister over new Rwanda bill, Home Office minister tells LBC

Mr Jenrick's resignation letter, published on Wednesday evening, read: "It is with great sadness that I have written to the Prime Minister to tender my resignation as Minister for Immigration."

He said he has been “pushing for the strongest possible piece of emergency legislation to ensure that under the Rwanda policy we remove as many small boat arrivals as swiftly as possible”.

He continued: “Nevertheless, I am unable to take the currently proposed legislation through to the Commons as I do not believe it provides us with the best possible chance of success.

“The stakes for the country are too high for us not to pursue the stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme and negating its intended deterrent”.

He added: "I refuse to be yet another politician who makes promises on immigration to the British public but does not keep them."

Home Secretary James Cleverly confirmed to MPs earlier on Wednesday evening that Mr Jenrick had quit.

Speculation over Mr Jenrick’s resignation started after he was absent from the frontbench as Mr Cleverly gave his statement on the new legislation.

It follows the Prime Minister’s decision not to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights in order to push the Rwanda policy through.

Mr Jenrick has been open in the past about his preference for a hardline approach to the Rwanda policy after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful last month.

The new bill will instead allow ministers to “disapply” parts of UK human rights law.

It comes after new emergency legislation on the Rwanda bill was announced on Wednesday evening.

Read more: James Cleverly says new Rwanda bill 'not compatible' with ECHR - as Sunak's emergency legislation published

Read more: Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman claims Tories face 'electoral oblivion' unless Rwanda flights go ahead

Robert Jenrick said he could not continue in his position given his 'disagreements' with the government over immigration policy.
Robert Jenrick said he could not continue in his position given his 'disagreements' with the government over immigration policy. Picture: Alamy

The Home Secretary visited Rwanda on Tuesday as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's mission to make the deal to send migrants to Rwanda legally watertight following the ruling.

Announcing the new legislation, Mr Cleverly said: “Given the Supreme Court’s judgement we cannot be confident that courts will respect the new treaty on its own.

“So today the government has published emergency legislation to make unambiguously clear that Rwanda is a safe country and to prevent the courts from second-guessing Parliament’s will.

“We will introduce legislation tomorrow... to give effect to the judgement of parliament that Rwanda is a safe country notwithstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law.”

Reacting to the news of Mr Jenrick’s resignation, the Home Secretary said: “I have from this despatch box and a number of other locations said how much I value the work of the immigration minister.

“He has done a huge amount of work on this... And I have said that in a number of areas which have driven down small boat arrivals by a third the work that he has done has been absolutely instrumental.”

“And I have said that in a number of areas which have driven down small boat arrivals by a third the work that he has done has been absolutely instrumental.”

“I have no doubt that the whole of Government will work to make sure this legislation achieves what I think we all should want to achieve, which is to break the business model of people smugglers.”

James Cleverly flew to Rwanda on Tuesday.
James Cleverly flew to Rwanda on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he was “sorry” over the news of Mr Jenrick’s resignation but that the bill is an “incredibly comprehensive set of proposals”.

He told Sky News: “I’m sorry Robert Jenrick has resigned, I think he was a good minister, but the background is we’ve just published an incredibly comprehensive set of proposals that are going to reduce the number of migration to the country.

“We’ve just managed to achieve, which many people thought we wouldn’t, a new treaty with Rwanda, agreed inside a very small number of weeks which many people thought would be impossible.

“We’re going to publish a bill which is going to put this policy beyond doubt.

“Nobody wants lots of people to be flown to Rwanda. As soon as that policy is in place I think the number of people coming across the Channel in boats will radically reduce and that’s the aim.”

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