Top legal adviser told Sunak his Rwanda flights bill may not work

Top legal adviser David Pannick said to have warned individual appeal claims would limit the chances of success

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 16:08
Rishi Sunak should ‘pull the Rwanda bill’ now, says Tory right-winger

Top legal adviser David Pannick is said to have warned Rishi Sunak’s government that its Rwanda bill may not get deportation flights started as planned.

The leading constitutional lawyer was asked by the government to help shape the legislation aimed at sending illegal migrants on one-way flights to the African country.

Lord Pannick reportedly said that the bill’s allowance for individual appeal claims would limit the chances of success in deporting failed asylum seekers.

A source familiar with the discussions told The Daily Telegraph: “Lord Pannick acknowledged that without addressing individual claims the scheme would be severely impeded.”

Government lawyers are also believed to have warned that there was only a “50 per cent at best” chance of getting the first Rwanda flights off before the general election.

Right-wing Tory MPs are frustrated that Clause IV in the bill allows asylum seekers to lodge legal challenges against deportations based on individual circumstances.

Dozens of hardline MPs also want Mr Sunak to go further by using “notwithstanding clauses” to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in asylum cases.

The Tory leader’s bill allows ministers to disapply parts of the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as overriding the ECHR.

Senior Tory Mark Francois has warned rebel MPs could still kill the bill

MPs in the “five families” of the Tory right – including Brexiteers the European Research Group (ERG) – have threatened to kill the bill if the government does not agree to amendments in the new year.

Attorney General Victoria Prentis is said to have argued against notwithstanding clauses to push any further in disapplying human rights law.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who quit in fury over the “weak” bill, told colleagues the Home Office should “take back control” after he was excluded from a No 10 meeting with Ms Prentis, according to the Telegraph.

Mr Sunak also faces a challenge by Tory moderates in the One Nation group who are still considering how to amend the bill in a bid to soften its impact.

Moderate Sir Robert Buckland confirmed that he was also considering how it might be “tweaked” to make it comply with human rights law.

However, Damian Green, the One Nation wing’s chair, said he hoped the “third reading would go through reasonably easily” so long as Mr Sunak sticks to the current, narrow “landing strip”.

Despite winning a first reading vote before Christmas, Mr Sunak only needs a rebellion of 28 Tory MPs to see his majority destroyed at the crucial third reading stage, as Labour and other parties will vote against it.

The legislation allows migrants to appeal their deportation if they have “compelling” evidence that being sent to Rwanda puts them at imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm.

Home Office modelling suggests 99.5 per cent of individual legal challenges submitted by asylum seekers will fail to block their deportation.

But Tory critics of the plan dismissed the assessment, based on a model from March, as “outdated”. And they remain unimpressed by Mr Sunak’s claim that legal challenges will be “vanishingly rare”.

Lord Pannick declined to comment. The Home Office has been approached for comment.

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