Tory ERG are 'playing with Brexit fire' over proposed amends to Rwanda migration bill, warns former party chairman

11 December 2023, 19:19 | Updated: 11 December 2023, 19:29

David Davis tells Andrew Marr that the ERG and those on the right of the Tory Party are ‘playing with Brexit fire’
David Davis tells Andrew Marr that the ERG and those on the right of the Tory Party are ‘playing with Brexit fire’. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The Tory ERG are "playing with Brexit fire" over the Rwanda migration bill, a former party chairman has warned.

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Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr, David Davis said the European Research Group (ERG), and those on the right of the Tory Party, who want to undermine the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are "playing with Brexit fire" and risk "destroying Brexit" over proposed amends to the Rwanda immigration Bill.

He said he was "not sure why they’re doing it, unless they’re being encouraged by people who have other interests".

It comes as the government has been urged to "pull" its Rwanda Bill by right-wing MPs.

"They're playing with Brexit fire, they're destroying Brexit," Mr Davis said.

"These are nearly all Brexiteers… Look these are old mates of mine... I'm not sure quite why they're doing it, unless they're being encouraged by people who have other interests."

The Bill is due to be voted on in parliament on Tuesday, with One Nation Tory MPs having confirmed they will back the PM's bill.

Read more: 'Scrap Rwanda Bill and start again': Tory ERG calls on Sunak to come up with new migrant plan ahead of tomorrow's vote

Read more: Tory right-wing ERG reject government's Rwanda plan - claiming Sunak's bill does not go far enough

David Davis tells Andrew Marr how Rwanda legislation may jeopardise Brexit

Mr Davis went on to explain how undermining the ECHR would destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

"It doesn't automatically destroy Brexit, but it does pretty much automatically destroy the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Davis said.

"The Good Friday Agreement, if you read through it has a whole load of clauses which are based on the European Convention on Human Rights, it's fundamental.

"So, if you destroy your support for that, then you destroy that. It gives pretty much an automatic right to the European Union to pull the plug on everything else if they want to because there are enough clauses in the TCA to do that."

It comes after Chairman of the ERG, Mark Francois, said the Rwanda scheme - which would see asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boats deported to Rwanda - had 'too many holes' as he urged the government to pull the proposed legislation.

"The Government would be best advised to pull the Bill and come up with a revised version that works better than this one," Mr Francois said outside Portcullis House in Westminster.

"There have been two legislative attempts at this already, the Nationalities and Borders Act - that didn't quite work - the Illegal Immigration Act - that didn't quite work," Francois continued.

"So this is, kind of, three strikes and you're out, isn't it?"If we're going to put a Bill through Parliament, to have a piece of legislation which is fit for purpose. As the Bill is currently drafted, it isn't."

He did not say whether he had confidence in the prime minister ahead of the Commons vote.

The ERG's so-called 'Star Chamber' of legal experts earlier published a letter to members, stating the Bill needed "significant amendments".

"The Bill overall provides a partial and incomplete solution to the problem of legal challenges in the UK courts being used as stratagems to delay or defeat the removal of illegal migrants to Rwanda," a letter from the lawyers of the prominent group of pro-Brexit MPs states.

The letter from the ERG's legal advisers says Sunak is correct in calling the Bill the "toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by the UK government".

But the right-wing group says they "do not believe that it goes far enough to deliver the policy as intended".

ERG chairman says Rwanda Bill in its current form is ‘not fit for purpose’

Meanwhile, following a meeting on Monday evening, One Nation MPs said they were recommending members vote for the Safety of Rwanda Bill at its Second Reading.

But the group said it remained concerned about any future amendments that would mean breaching the rule of law and its international obligations, and would oppose such amendments.

Chairman Damian Green said: "We have taken the decision that the most important thing at this stage is to support the Bill despite our real concerns.

"We strongly urge the Government to stand firm against any attempt to amend the Bill in a way that would make it unacceptable to those who believe that support for the rule of law is a basic Conservative principle."

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