Sunak 'considered axing Rwanda scheme' during leadership bid but was warned off by allies

7 January 2024, 23:13

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Views Flood Response Efforts In Oxfordshire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Views Flood Response Efforts In Oxfordshire. Picture: Getty

By Chay Quinn

Rishi Sunak considered axing the controversial Rwanda asylum plan during his ill-fated leadership battle with Liz Truss, reports claim.

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The Prime Minister weighed up ditching the plan when he was running to become Tory leader in the summer of 2022.

He admitted yesterday that he had raised concerns as Chancellor about the scheme's value-for-money but now fully backs it.

Tory sources told The Sun that he considered "junking" the policy during his failed initial election campaign - before he eventually became PM in October of the same year.

Read More: Rishi Sunak confirms government is developing plan to help Post Office workers clear their names in Horizon scandal

An insider said: "He was told very clearly it would go down badly with the MPs who loved it and he changed his mind."

Rishi Sunak has indicated he is open to making changes to his Rwanda Bill if they can be backed up by "respectable" legal argument, in a bid to quell dissent among Tory MPs.

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Tory sources told The Sun that he considered "junking" the policy during his failed initial election campaign - before he eventually became PM in October of the same year. Picture: Getty

The PM won a crunch vote with a 44-strong majority in the Commons on his emergency draft law in December aimed at reviving the policy to deport some asylum seekers to Kigali.

But he faces further opposition from hardliners on the Conservative right, who want the Bill strengthened, as well as more moderate wings of his party when it returns to the House next year.

The Prime Minister has previously insisted the legislation strikes the right balance, suggesting there is only an "inch" between his rescue plan and more radical measures that would risk Rwanda pulling out of the scheme.

Mr Sunak said: "I've been very consistently clear, as have all ministers, if there are ways that the legislation can be improved, to be made even more effective - with a respectable legal argument and maintaining the participation of the Rwandans in the scheme - of course we would be open to that, who wouldn't be?"

Mr Sunak has refused to say how soon flights to Kigali will take off if he gets the legislation through the Commons and Lords, where it is also expected to face heavy scrutiny.

"I'm keen to crack on with it," is all he would say when asked about timings in an interview with The Spectator.

Right-wing Tory factions including the European Research Group (ERG) have threatened to vote down the Safety of Rwanda Bill unless it is hardened, including by denying asylum seekers individual appeals.

A placard seen striped on the roadside outside the Home...
The Prime Minister has previously insisted the legislation strikes the right balance, suggesting there is only an "inch" between his rescue plan and more radical measures that would risk Rwanda pulling out of the scheme. Picture: Getty

But this could risk losing the backing of more centrist Tories, who are keen to protect the legislation against breaches of international law.

Mr Sunak also dismissed backbench objections as "debating society" behaviour but in a bid to pre-empt rebellion said that Rwanda will not take deportees who have no legal recourse to Strasbourg.

"What the country wants is a practical government that is making a difference to their lives and changing things for the better, not a debating society," he said in his Spectator in interview.

"People are frustrated that the pace of change is not fast enough. I get that. I am working night and day, tirelessly, to keep making a difference."

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