Sunak rules out quitting ECHR as Braverman attacks PM in Commons speech

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Rishi Sunak has ruled out a radical move to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – despite a rebellion by the Tory right that threatens his ‘plan B’ Rwanda legislation.

It comes as Suella Braverman, sacked by Mr Sunak as home secretary last month, told the PM that he must ignore the ECHR and other human rights law or face “electoral oblivion”.

“The Conservative party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill that is destined to fail,” she told the Commons. “Do we fight for sovereignty or do we let our party die?”

Mr Sunak is facing revolt by Ms Braverman and other hardliners who are pushing him go for “full fat” legislation by “disapplying” the ECHR in a bid to stop judges from blocking deportations.

But the PM has also been warned by a powerful group of Tory moderates that they cannot support his legislation if he does try to flout the ECHR – arguing that it would be “red line” that cannot be crossed.

Mr Sunak will try to appease the Tory right by disapplying parts of the UK Human Rights Act in the legislation – a move described by The Times as a “middle way” option.

The PM has also been warned he faces up to 10 moderate ministers quitting government if he uses emergency legislation to get around ECHR, according to The Telegraph.

Tory MPs on right – including members of the New Conservatives, Commons Sense Group and European Research Group – will convene a “star chamber” of legal experts to decide with the upcoming Rwanda legislation is tough enough to support.

Mark Francois, chair of the ERG, said Mr Sunak’s plan B bill must “fully respect the sovereignty of parliament” and put their wishes to get flights in the air above international law.

However, Tory moderates in the ‘One Nation’ caucus – which boasts around 100 MPs – have urged Mr Sunak to remain committed to both the ECHR and the UK Human Rights Act.

They too have warned of rebellion over the legislation expected to be set out on Thursday. Its chair Damian Green said Mr Sunak “should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and HRA”.

Rishi Sunak is under huge pressure to get flights to Rwanda under way (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak is under huge pressure to get flights to Rwanda under way (PA Wire)

Stephen Hammond, deputy chair, said moderate MPs would “struggle to support a so-called full-fat” option of flouting the ECHR, while fellow moderate Matt Warman MP said overriding the ECHR would be a “red line”.

As the Tory rift deepened, right-winger Simon Clarke, who wants to opt out of the ECHR, fired back at the moderates by tweeting: “Failing to stop the boats would be a red line for a number of Conservatives – namely our voters.”

Home secretary James Cleverly is thought to have met ‘One Nation’ before his trip to Rwanda this week – angering the right-wing groups.

The Independent understands there has been no attempt by No 10 or ministers to reach out to Tories on the right. One senior MP said there would be “no purpose” in the bill if it fails to address human rights law to block legal challenges.

Suella Braverman set to add to pressure on Sunak in Commons speech (PA Wire)
Suella Braverman set to add to pressure on Sunak in Commons speech (PA Wire)

Ms Braverman criticised Mr Sunak in her formal resignation statment in the Commons this afternoon, suggested that he had ignored her calls for an ECHR opt-out while in government.

She said it was time to thwart “expansive” UK and international human rights law and “block off all routes of challenge” with use of “notwithstanding” clauses in the Rwanda bill so judges are told to ignore the ECHR and HRA.

Some Tory MPs on the right submitted letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak on Wednesday, according to ITV presenter Robert Peston.

Conservatives from the Common Sense Group, New Conservatives and the ERG are set to meet again at 6pm this evening to discuss Mr Sunak’s government Rwanda bill.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick – an ally of Ms Braverman – is still pushing for the hardline, “full fat” approach, according to The Telegraph.

One option said to be under consideration is considered is giving ministers reserve powers in the legislation to ignore ECHR rulings if the court attempted to block the Rwanda policy – although opting out of the convention for asylum cases would not be automatic.

Mr Sunak could try to ward off a Tory rebellion against the bill by suggesting he is willing to consider pulling the UK out of the ECHR altogether if the courts again block Rwanda flights.

The row follow’s Mr Cleverly’s move to sign another treaty with Rwanda. But Mr Cleverly still could not guarantee flights would leave by next spring, as Mr Sunak hopes – as he became the third minister in less than two years to sign an agreement with the African nation.

James Cleverly and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta sign the new treaty (PA Wire)
James Cleverly and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta sign the new treaty (PA Wire)

Mr Cleverly promised that the “emergency” legislation would come before parliament “soon”. He also said that he could see “no reason” why migrants could not be sent from the UK to Rwanda in the coming months.

Emergency legislation aimed at saving the Rwanda plan will do “whatever it takes” to protect the deal from further setbacks in the courts, a Home Office minister Chris Philp said on Wednesday. He said the bill will ensure the Rwanda deal is “legally watertight”.

But former Labour home secretary David Blunkett said the government’s Rwanda deal was “stupid and impractical”. He told The House magazine that Labour should not engage in a “bidding war” with the Tories with deportation promises.

The UK’s top court last month blocked the Rwanda policy over concerns that genuine refugees could be wrongly sent back to their countries of origin where they would face persecution.

In an attempt to rectify this, the new treaty means British and Commonwealth judges will preside over a newly established appeals process within Rwanda’s high court for exceptional cases.

Another key measure is a commitment that no-one will be removed by Rwanda to any other country except the UK. Experts from the UK will also be seconded to Rwanda to assist with the processing of asylum decisions.