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Rishi Sunak defends Rwanda bill as Tory right hits out

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Rishi Sunak said on Thursday that his new immigration bill fully addressed the concerns of the UK Supreme Court about his policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as the issue threatens to destabilise his leadership.

The prime minister said a new treaty with Rwanda along with the legislation would “end the merry-go-round of legal challenges” that had blocked the policy to date, despite scepticism from MPs and legal experts.

Earlier on Thursday, former home secretary Suella Braverman said the legislation “will not work” and warned the Conservative party was in a “very perilous position”.

Sunak’s effort to revive the Rwanda policy was hit soon after the government unveiled the bill on Wednesday when immigration minister Robert Jenrick quit, describing it as a “triumph of hope over experience”.

Jenrick had pushed Sunak to propose a bill that would more forcefully extricate the UK from international treaties and said he refused to be “another politician that makes promises to the British public on immigration but does not keep them”.

Behind Jenrick are a significant number of rightwing MPs who are similarly aggrieved that the proposed legislation did not disapply international treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, to stave off further expected challenges by courts in both the UK and Strasbourg.

If just 29 Conservative MPs decide to rebel and vote with Labour against the bill next week it would present a serious threat to Sunak’s leadership.

The prime minister on Thursday said the vote on the Rwanda bill would not be treated as a vote of confidence in his leadership, which would mean Tory MPs could lose the party whip if they rebelled.

Sunak claimed the bigger question was for Labour: “I’m not hearing from anyone else that they’ve got a plan . . . the question is what are Labour going to do?” he said. “Are they going to vote for this legislation.”

The Supreme Court last month blocked the Rwanda policy by finding the east African nation was not safe because asylum seekers faced a real risk of being sent back to their countries of origin without proper consideration of their claims.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Sunak said his new bill included “notwithstanding clauses” to stymie challenges under the UK Human Rights Act and other laws.

“This bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to stop flights to Rwanda taking off,” said Sunak.

He said the bill only allowed challenges by those who could show they were individually at risk of irreparable harm if they were sent to Rwanda.

“We have set the bar so high that it would be vanishingly rare for anyone to meet it,” he said.

The bill deems Rwanda a “safe country” in law and disapplied parts of the UK’s Human Rights Act.

It stopped short, however, of fully disapplying international law, and left the government open to challenges from individual applicants.

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