Senior Conservatives warn Rishi Sunak not to ‘pick fight’ with ECHR over Rwanda response

A group of moderate Conservative MPs have written to prime minister Rishi Sunak to urge him not to renege on Britain’s international obligations and treaty commitments in order to force through the Rwanda plan. 

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court unanimously backed the judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal which declared the government’s flagship deportation policy unlawful because of the risk that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their own country and face persecution in breach of their human rights.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling at the time, Rishi Sunak issued a statement, saying: “We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps.

“This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats”.

Turning to the European Court of Human Rights in a subsequent press conference, Sunak said: “If the Strasbourg court chooses to intervene against the express wishes of parliament, I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off”.

The prime minister has since faced concerted pressure from MPs on his party right to take a hardline in his response to the ruling. At Home Office questions on Monday, secretary of state James Cleverly was urged to “disapply” elements of the ECHR and UN refugee convention in order to block future legal challenges to the Rwanda plan.

Former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said: “Disapplication of elements of the ECHR and the refugee conventions, will be necessary. The Court of Appeals cited human rights. The Supreme Court cited refoulement. What will it be next time in the absence of parliament expressly asserting the will of this House?”.

Rwanda: James Cleverly told he must ‘disapply’ elements of ECHR and UN refugee convention

Former home secretary Suella Braverman wrote to the prime minister last month, in the wake of her sacking, to urge him to include such “notwithstanding clauses” in the new legislation Sunak has already promised will revive the Rwanda policy.

But the Financial Times reports today that “almost 30” Conservative MPs have written to the prime minister to counter this view. 

Damian Green, chair of the moderate One Nation group of moderate Conservative MPs, told the newspaper: “There are very widespread concerns across the parliamentary party that Britain must maintain its reputation as a country that believes in the rule of law.” 

And Sir Bob Neill, chair of the House of Commons justice committee, said: “Many Conservative voters in traditional seats are uneasy with picking fights with the country’s institutions and want to keep to the treaties we have entered into.”

Green has previously likened Suella Braverman’s proposed approach to moving the blocked Rwanda plan forward to something “Putin and Xi do”.

Writing on X (formerly Twitter) Conservative MP Damian Green said earlier this month: “[This] second test is the most unconservative statement I have ever heard from a Conservative politician”.

Green, who served as the de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, added: “Giving the state the explicit power to override every legal constraint is what Putin and Xi do. We absolutely cannot go there.”

Rishi Sunak’s cabinet is reported to be split on the issue of Rwanda, with immigration minister Robert Jenrick said to favour taking robust action. 

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