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

11 December 2023, 14:22 | Updated: 11 December 2023, 14:55

Tory right-wing group ERG has called on the government to 'pull' its Rwanda immigration bill. Pictured: ERG Chairman Mark Francois and deputy chair David Jones (left) and Rishi Saunk (right)
Tory right-wing group ERG has called on the government to 'pull' its Rwanda immigration bill. Pictured: ERG Chairman Mark Francois and deputy chair David Jones (left) and Rishi Saunk (right). Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

The government has been urged to 'pull' its Rwanda immigration Bill by right-wing MPs in the European Research Group - just 24 hours before it is due to be voted on in parliament.

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Chairman of the group, Mark Francois, said the 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," Francois said at a press conference 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 tomorrow's Commons vote.

"We all want the Prime Minister to succeed. He promised to stop the boats... but in order to do that we need legislation that's fit for purpose."

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

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks with Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron and Home Secretary James Cleverly at Horse Guards Parade, central London, Tuesday November 21, 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks with Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron and Home Secretary James Cleverly at Horse Guards Parade, central London, Tuesday November 21, 2023. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Home Office 'bullish' about Rwanda laws but Tory fringe groups sour on Sunak's migration plan

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"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, however, does not explicitly state how the group of MPs will vote. They will meet this evening to decide whether or not to support the government's legislation.

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".

Urging the government to come forward with changes to the Bill, chairman of the group, Mark Francois, said: “The bells do not ring until 7pm tomorrow. There is a bit of time to pass between now and 7pm.”

Asked to confirm if the ERG will reject the Bill, Francois said: "If I were you, I wouldn't assume anything until at least there has been a further meeting this evening," he says.

By publishing the so-called 'Star Chamber's' advice, the chairman said the group had "dropped the government a broad hint, now let's see how the government respond".

European Research Group (ERG) chair Mark Francois speaks to the media outside Portcullis House, Westminster, December 11, 2023
European Research Group (ERG) chair Mark Francois speaks to the media outside Portcullis House, Westminster, December 11, 2023. Picture: Alamy

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

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Simon Clarke, a former cabinet minister under Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, said the lawyer's advice was "very concerning".

"It does set out a number of quite clear and specific challenges to the Government on whether the legislation works. There is no point frankly in our relitigating this issue unless it does work," he said.

He said he would "really hope" the government would respond with changes to the Bill that address the issues.

However, veteran Tory MP Sir Michael Fabricant, a member of the group, stressed that he would be voting for the bill on Tuesday.

Sir Michael said: "It is not perfect (no Bill ever is), but I agree with its principle: to deter the slavers providing dangerous channel crossings.

"Amendments can then be made later in the usual way."

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