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Sunak Says Patience Is ‘Wearing Thin’ Over Blocked Rwanda Plan

2023-12-01 18:29
Rishi Sunak said his “patience is wearing thin” over the UK’s inability to push through its flagship Rwanda
Sunak Says Patience Is ‘Wearing Thin’ Over Blocked Rwanda Plan

Rishi Sunak said his “patience is wearing thin” over the UK’s inability to push through its flagship Rwanda deportation plan, as he prepares to publish legislation to force the controversial policy past the courts.

Sunak is under intense pressure from members of his governing Conservative Party after the Rwanda plan — which Tory strategists regard is essential to make headway in the polls ahead of a general election likely next year — was quashed by the UK Supreme Court more than two weeks ago.

“My patience is wearing thin, the country’s patience is wearing thin,” Sunak told reporters en route to Dubai, where the British prime minister is attending the COP28 climate summit on Friday. “We have to end this merry go round.”

Facing a rebellion from the right of his party, Sunak promised a new treaty with Rwanda and emergency legislation he said would meet the concerns thrown up by Britain’s highest judges and allow the deportation flights to take off. He has yet to publish either, and in the void different Tory factions are squabbling about how hardline the government’s legislation should be.

Many right-wing Tories want Sunak to use the legislation to “dis-apply” human rights laws, including the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and potentially the UN Refugee Convention. That’s an extension of the Brexiteer argument about the need to assert the primacy of the UK Parliament and British sovereignty more broadly.

But Sunak knows that following that course would damage Britain’s relations with its biggest allies and trading partners, as well as cause an immediate domestic headache given the European Convention on Human Rights also underpins the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Recent comments from Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly suggest the government is trying to thread the needle between the UK’s international obligations while enabling the Rwanda plan to go ahead. Bloomberg reported this week that the European Union has privately urged the UK not to backtrack on human rights agreements that underpin ties between them.

“I am crystal clear we are in compliance with all those obligations and I know the government and the party is united behind that position,” Sunak told reporters. Yet he declined to give details about what the legislation will contain, an omission that is likely to fuel the sense that the prime minister is still playing for time while his team and senior ministers thrash out their options.

Cleverly is among those who have said it is not necessary for the UK to renege on its international agreements, while Security Minister Tom Tugendhat has voiced his concern in the context of the impact on the Northern Ireland peace deal. But immigration minister Robert Jenrick is closer to the more hardline approach of his former boss Suella Braverman, who Sunak ousted as home secretary last month.

The Rwanda plan has been controversial ever since Johnson announced it in April 2022. It effectively hinges on the threat of a one-way ticket acting as a deterrent, even as the government has to prove the African nation is safe enough to meet its human rights commitments. The Supreme Court ruled the deportation plan was unlawful in large part because the UK couldn’t guarantee deportees would be safe after they reach Rwanda.