Senior Conservative suggests Rwanda bill rebels are ‘betraying’ party traditions

A senior Conservative MP has suggested his colleagues vowing to “toughen up” the Rwanda bill during its committee stage this week are betraying his party’s traditions. 

Damian Green, former de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May and chair of the One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs, has argued that “the practical effect of the [Sir Bill Cash/Robert Jenrick] amendments would be to ensure that no flights to Rwanda ever take off”.

In an article for the Telegraph newspaper, Green said that reading the rebels’ amendments “reveals that they go far beyond the debate about the European Convention on Human Rights and create a class of people with fewer rights than the most vicious criminal”.

This, he added, “would betray the Conservative tradition of trying to unite our society”. 

Green claimed that to “take away any right of such an appeal” for an asylum seeker set to be deported to Rwanda, a rebel proposal, “is both unnecessary and a touch authoritarian”.

He added: “I supported the Government when the Bill passed its second reading debate in the Commons because I believe they have found a way to meet the objections of the Supreme Court to the existing scheme while staying (just) within the bounds of the law. 

“I would therefore be content if the Bill passes the next stages of the debate intact, not least because it will bring forward the day when it passes into law and therefore we can expect to see the flights taking off…”

“Impractical measures that sound tough but achieve nothing are the wrong way to make this happen and will not help us get flights off the ground”.

The Rwanda bill requires all relevant decision-makers within the immigration system, such as Home Office officials, courts and immigration tribunals to treat the African country as “safe” for all relevant purposes.

The bill also disapplies a number of provisions in the Human Rights Act (HRA) which would otherwise be used by opponents to lodge a judicial review on the grounds that it breaches individuals’ legal rights.

The prime minister nonetheless faces challenges to toughen up the bill, having rejected a “full fat” variant of the legislation advocated by Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick and many Conservative MPs on the right of the party. 

The rebels have been referred to collectively as the “five families” of Conservative right factions, including the New Conservatives, the Conservative Growth Group, The European Research Group, The Northern Research Group and the Common Sense Group. 

Members of these factions have vowed to close “loopholes” in the bill. 

Writing for the Telegraph last week, co-chairs of the New Conservatives Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates argued their proposed amendments — which aim to limit virtually all legal challenges by asylum seekers and block attempts by the European Court of Human Rights to halt the flights — are “proportionate, consistent with our international obligations, and have respectable legal arguments behind them”.

Conservative right bids to close Rwanda bill ‘loopholes’ as commons showdown looms

They added: “As with the rest of the bill, and the Rwanda plan in general, they are tough – because they need to be.”

Writing on their criticism of the bill as it stands, Kruger and Cates argued that Clause 4 “allows a migrant’s lawyer to claim that for them in particular – perhaps for reasons of their mental health, the claims that stopped the flights in 2022 – Rwanda would not be safe”.

Last week, former cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, considered a Rwanda rebel, warned the prime minister he will look “hopeless” if the government’s Rwanda bill fails to result in migrant deportation flights finally taking off.

He said: “Passing an ineffective bill would make the government look hopeless. In many ways it would be better to do nothing than to fail again because this is actually the third go at trying to get people deported to Rwanda.”

It comes as Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary a member of Green’s One Nation group, write for ConservativeHome on his proposed amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

He said: “I have proposed some amendments that do the following things: remove the legislative fluff that does nothing to strengthen the law and risks creating more opportunities for litigation; stop the risk of cases having to go straight to the Strasbourg court rather than being dealt with here in the UK, and avoid further legal confusion about the effect of interim ECtHR measures”.

He added: “I also think it best to make sure that the provision in Clause 2 that means that courts and tribunals will have to deem Rwanda conclusively to be a safe country should only take effect when our Government is satisfied that Rwanda has implemented all of its obligations under the new treaty to refine and improve its legal processes, ending the risk of return to countries of origin (or refoulement, in the language of the Refugee Convention). 

“This will remove the argument that Parliament should not legislate to “change the facts” when the reality is that nothing has changed”.

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