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Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick Resigns Over Rwanda Bill

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The Rwanda refugee plan plunged further into chaos on Wednesday as the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, quit over the “fatally flawed” legislation proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Jenrick warned that the emergency Bill to authorize deportation flights failed to go far enough, accusing the Prime Minister of making empty promises on immigration. 

His resignation came just hours after Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, publicly attacked Sunak’s approach in a dramatic personal statement to MPs.

The same moderate Tory who backed Sunak’s leadership bids has delivered a stunning rebuke to the Prime Minister’s Rwanda refugee plan.

Jenrick’s move shows the immense pressure facing Sunak from hardliners to toughen his approach. Will the Prime Minister be able to find some sort of middle ground?

Robert Jenrick, Minister of State for Immigration, has resigned as a direct result of the Prime Minister’s Rwanda legislation bill, as Suella Braverman warned that the Tories were heading for “electoral oblivion.”

In his resignation letter, which he posted on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, Robert Jenrick said he did not want to be “another politician who makes promises on immigration to the British public but does not keep them.”

Jenrick even warned that Sunak’s bill amounts to a “triumph of hope over experience.” Other Tory critics described the Bill as “fatally flawed.”

Jenrick resigned after former Home Secretary Suella Braverman used her departure speech to criticize Sunak’s immigration policies.

Braverman, whom Jenrick worked with closely, outlined her demands for the Rwanda deportation legislation and warned of political backlash if it was inadequate.

Jenrick has been long seen as a political ally of Sunak. Back in 2019, the pair wrote a joint article with Oliver Dowden, now the deputy prime minister, backing Boris Johnson for the Conservative Party leadership.

The minister said the new Rwanda deportation legislation does not go far enough after he failed to convince the Prime Minister to allow ministers to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights.

His resignation came just hours after the bill was published. It aims to end legal challenges blocking Rwanda flights by declaring the country safe for asylum seekers but lacks the powers Jenrick wanted.

He warned the government is also not doing enough to meet its 2019 manifesto pledge to reduce net migration despite announcing a five-point plan this week. Jenrick called for “significant additional reforms” and emergency rule changes to meet the pledge.

Several Conservative MPs have warned against Robert Jenrick’s resignation over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda policy. It raises concerns about the government’s direction.

Mark Francois, chair of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, voiced alarm about Jenrick’s resignation earlier on Wednesday.

Speaking to fellow Tory MPs, Francois called Jenrick “a good man” and said his exit over the Rwanda bill is “deeply worrying.”

As head of the party’s influential right-wing faction, Francois’ concerns carry weight. They signal discontent on the backbenches about the legislation’s strength.

Jenrick’s dramatic exit has plunged Sunak into a fresh migration crisis. Some on the Tory right are troubled that the minister responsible for delivering the Rwanda measures chose to resign instead.

The departure of Jenrick, previously seen as a moderate, signals divides within the party. Hardliners worry Sunak’s bill lacks substance and effective enforcement. Losing the immigration minister over policy doubts is an alarming sign for Conservatives.

The Prime Minister is now scrambling to contain the political fallout from losing a key Cabinet member over migration policy. Jenrick’s exit casts further uncertainty on the government’s direction under Sunak’s leadership.

In response to Robert Jenrick’s resignation

In his resignation letter, Sunak told Jenrick his exit was “disappointing” since they agreed on the policy’s goal – deporting migrants to Rwanda to stop boat crossings.

Sunak argued Jenrick’s departure “is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.” The PM expressed confidence that the new law enabling Rwanda flights would work.

The Prime Minister wrote: “Your resignation is disappointing given we both agree on the ends, getting flights off to Rwanda so that we can stop the boats. I fear that your departure is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. It is our experience that gives us confidence that this will work.”

Sunak countered that Rwanda demanded legislation complying with international law. Passing a stronger bill flouting those obligations would be pointless, as Rwanda would reject it.

The Prime Minister maintained that Jenrick misjudged the situation. Sunak insisted only his more moderate, pragmatic approach could deliver actual deportations and deter migrant boats.

By implying Jenrick erred in demanding tougher measures, Sunak tried to reassure right-wing Tories the Rwanda bill has substance despite the minister’s resignation.

Sunak portrayed Jenrick as acting on mistaken assumptions rather than policy doubts. But Jenrick’s dramatic protest exit suggests genuine ideological divisions over migration within the party.

Merely hours before the immigration minister resigned from his post, the Home Office had actually published the emergency legislation, which is called the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which was only 12 pages long.

The bill declares Rwanda a “safe country” for asylum seekers coming to the UK. It also suspends the 1998 Human Rights Act regarding Rwanda deportation flights.

These provisions try to override last month’s Supreme Court ruling that deemed the Rwanda scheme unlawful. The bill asserts Parliament now deems Rwanda safe for refugees, despite the Court’s objections.

By designating Rwanda as secure legislatively, the government hopes to shield deportations from further legal challenges. Exempting the flights from human rights law also aims to prevent them being blocked again on such grounds.

But for Jenrick, the bill’s limited scope was inadequate. He demanded even stronger measures to ensure deportations occur. The published bill’s reliance on procedural maneuvers over substantive policy sealed his decision to resign.

The bill allows UK ministers to disregard “pyjama injunctions” from the European Court of Human Rights that have grounded Rwanda flights. Such an injunction halted the first deportation flight in June 2022.

While the legislation better shields the overall Rwanda scheme from legal challenges, experts say individuals facing deportation can still file lawsuits. So, even if passed, the bill may not prevent individual cases that delay flights and block removals.

In essence, the legislation reduces but does not eliminate legal hurdles to actually deporting asylum seekers. By itself, it may not guarantee flights occur without hitches

Richard Ekins, who is a professor of law and constitutional government at Oxford University and head of Policy Exchange’s judicial power project, has said, regarding the bill: “The legislation does not adequately anticipate and address the risks of further litigation, which will challenge the lawfulness of removals to Rwanda on individual grounds.

Downing Street insiders said Sunak opted for a more intense version of the law, claiming it lets Parliament play a “Trump card” forcing UK courts to approve Rwanda flight plans.

However, Rwanda suggested it would abandon the deal if the UK acted unlawfully, seen by some as voicing concern about leaving the ECHR.

Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said “Without lawful behavior by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

Number 10 insiders argued this showed a tougher law jeopardizing the agreement. But allies of Jenrick and Braverman disputed this “desperate spin.”

Publicly, Sunak touted the measures, tweeting “It is Parliament that should decide who comes to this country, not criminal gangs.”

He also privately met the 1922 Committee, recalling his “unite or die” message when he became leader. Sunak claimed ditching courts entirely would lose Rwanda’s participation, saying “We have got a choice, every one of us, to decide whether this is the moment we come together as a team and take the fight to Labour.”

Some offered support, like the moderate One Nation group stating “We welcome the Government’s decision to continue to meet the UK’s international commitments which uphold the rule of law.”

Veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash reportedly told the 1922 Committee the law seemed robust, pending further review.

But immigration hardliners argued the bill does not go far enough. A Braverman ally said it was “fatally flawed” by allowing human rights appeals that courts would “bog down” for months. “This Bill doesn’t come close to meeting Suella’s tests,” they stated.

The first Commons vote is expected next Tuesday, but amendments to slow it down are likely in the House of Lords, where Tories lack a majority.

In essence, while Sunak claims the bill is forceful, critics across the party question if it truly enables deportations or just provides legal cover. Jenrick’s resignation suggests genuine discontent with the legislation’s potency.

All in all, the whole Rwanda fiasco reveals an impotent government facing an incredible challenge. Sunak must choose – appease critics or control the borders. There is no middle way.

If the Tories continue down this confused path, they guarantee electoral oblivion. The party must re-embrace core values of security, identity and opportunity that made Brexit possible.

The stakes are clear. Uphold national sovereignty or become hollowed out by other interests. The British public cry out for leadership. The question now is – will anyone answer?

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