Centrist Tories urge PM not to abandon UK’s human rights commitments, but Sunak said his patience ‘worn thin’ by delays
Rishi Sunak has promised not to allow foreign courts to stop Britain sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, even as a group of more centrist Conservative MPs urges him not to abandon Britain’s international human rights commitments.
The prime minister said on Friday his patience was being “worn thin” by delays to the Rwanda plan, which was ruled illegal under domestic and international law by the supreme court last month.
As Tory MPs continued to row publicly over whether the UK should overrule the European Convention on human rights, the prime minister said he would not let the plan be stopped by international judges.
Speaking to reporters at the Cop summit in Dubai, Sunak said: “There should be no more domestic blocks to us putting in place this programme. But I’ve also been clear that I won’t allow a foreign court to block us from flights taking off. My patience is worn thin, the British people’s patience is worn thin.”
Conservative hardliners, including the former home secretary Suella Braverman have put heavy pressure on the prime minister to overrule or even abandon Britain’s commitments to the ECHR and the UN refugee convention in an attempt to start flights to Rwanda.
Another group of moderates is urging the prime minister not to bow to such demands, citing the importance of complying with international law.
More than 20 Tory MPs from the centrist One Nation group have written a letter to the prime minister warning him not to resile from Britain’s international obligations.
Damian Green, the former immigration minister, was one of nearly 30 MPs to sign the letter, which was first reported by the Financial Times. He said: “We want Britain to meet its international obligations and defend the rule of law.”
Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the Commons justice committee, told the FT: “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.”
In an interview with the Times last week, James Cleverly, Braverman’s successor as home secretary, suggested he had sympathy with the arguments of the centrist MPs.
“I do not want to do anything that might undermine the key cooperation we have with countries [who] are very wedded to the ECHR for understandable reasons,” he said. “Nothing is cost-free. Everything needs to be considered, the advantages and disadvantages.”
Sunak is still working on domestic legislation and a new treaty with Rwanda, which he hopes will deal with the concerns raised by the supreme court last month. Judges warned that the plan as it stands risks people being sent back to their home countries even if their asylum applications are successful.
Braverman has suggested that a new treaty with Rwanda could allow the UK to send observers to Rwanda to guarantee that asylum seekers are not mistreated. However, reports this week suggest Kigali is cooling on the idea of a new treaty, apparently stung by public criticism of its asylum system.
Sunak said on Friday that a new treaty with Rwanda and new domestic legislation were close.
“We’re finalising that at the moment,” he said. “It’s important that we get it right because this is such a vital issue.”