Robert Jenrick tells MPs he rejects government’s claim Rwanda would not accept tougher bill – UK politics live | Politics

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SNP’s Alison Thewliss opens debate on Rwanda bill saying it’s ‘irredeemably awful’ and won’t work

In the Commons MPs are finally starting the Rwanda bill debate.

Alison Thewliss, the SNP spokesperson for home affairs, is opening the proceedings. That is because the SNP amendment saying the bill should declare Rwanda unsafe, instead of safe, is the first amendment selected for debate.

Thewliss starts by saying that the SNP has tabled amendments not because they would support an amended bill, but because this is the only mechanism for getting their points debated. She says the bill is “irredeemably awful”. The bill will not work.

Sir Michael Fabricant (Con) intervenes, and asks how many “illegal asylum seekers” Scotland is hosting, compared with England. Thewliss says Fabricant should realise that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker.

(Under international refugee law, people can apply for asylum in any country that has signed the refugee convention and so there is nothing illegal about their applying for asylum. The government does not talk about illegal asylum seekers. But it does talk about illegal migration, because it has legislated to say that arriving in the UK without authorisation is an offence.)

Alison Thewliss speaking in the debate
Alison Thewliss speaking in the debate. Photograph: Parliament TV

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Key events

Cash ended his speech by saying the government should note “the sheer anger and frustration” felt by people in the country about the small boats. The government should respond by accepting his amendment, he said.

In the Commons Cash is still speaking. The Hansard Society has published new research today saying that the speeches by MPs in parliament seem to be getting shorter. They may not have made allowance for Cash, who is never concise.

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Sir Bill Cash (Con) is speaking now. He has signed all the main Tory rebel amendments, but he has also tabled his own – amendment 10 – and it’s a “notwithstanding clause” that would allow the government to go ahead with deportations to Rwanda regardless of what the European convention on human rights, and other international law, says.

He says he sent Rishi Sunak a briefing giving multiple examples of cases where countries had ignored international law without sanctions being applied.

This has happened in almost every jurisdiction, he says, including the EU, the US, France and Germany.

He says the UK has a dualist approach to international law. International law does not have a fixed status in domestic law, he says. He says the sovereignty of parliament prevails.

In Germany it is different, he says, because international law is an integral part of domestic law there.

Bill Cash speaking in the debate
Bill Cash speaking in the debate. Photograph: Parliament TV

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In the Commons Robert Jenrick has just intervened again on Stephen Kinnock, and asked him to clarify whether Labour thinks Rwanda is or is not a safe country.

Kinnock says Labour accepts the judgment of the supreme court, which said Rwanda was not safe.

Stephen Kinnock
Stephen Kinnock Photograph: Parliament TV

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Pippa Crerar says that, even though Boris Johnson is backing the Tory rebels on the Rwanda bill, that does not mean they have got the clout to get Rishi Sunak to change his mind.

This could end up being another Windsor framework vote – when Boris Johnson led the charge against Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland border plans in March 2023 and just 22 Tory MPs rebelled. Both wings of party, and govt sources, currently saying they don’t think right has numbers.

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) January 16, 2024

This could end up being another Windsor framework vote – when Boris Johnson led the charge against Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland border plans in March 2023 and just 22 Tory MPs rebelled. Both wings of party, and govt sources, currently saying they don’t think right has numbers.

There are more than 22 Tory MPs who have signed at least one of the rebel amendments. Miriam Cates puts the total number at 66. (See 9.46am.) But Labour is opposed to the Tory amendments – as Stephen Kinnock told the Commons just a moment ago – and so there is no risk to No 10 of those amendments being passed.

Robert Jenrick intervenes, and asks Kinnock if he can confirm a Times story published over Christmas saying Labour would consider offshore asylum processing. He says sending people abroad for asylum processing only to bring them back if asylum were granted would be even more expensive.

Kinnock says people applying for asylum under the Ukraine scheme have their claims processed offshore.

Labour condemns Rwanda policy as unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful

Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, is now making Labour’s case.

He starts by saying Labour is opposed to the bill in its entirety. He says the party wants to stop the boats and “fix our broken asylum system”. But he says Labour will “never support any proposal that is unaffordable, unworkable or unlawful”.

He says the government has already committed £400m to this policy. But the Rwandan authorities have only got the capacity to take 1% of the 30,000 people who have arrived since the Illegal Migration Act was passed, he says. And that means it won’t work as a deterrent.

He also says the policy was ruled illegal by the supreme court. Referring to the way the new bill says Rwanda is a safe country, contrary to what the supreme court says, he goes on:

We find ourselves confronted by a government that is seeking to legislate for an alternative reality, because while ministers appear to believe that they can pass a bill which determines that the sky is green, and the grass is blue, that does not make it so.

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Jenrick says Sunak should accept rebel Tory amendments because they all comply with international law

Jenrick says the government has said it will only accept amendments that have respectable legal arguments in their favour.

But he says the amendments he has tabled pass this test. He says he has an opinion from John Larkin KC, a former attorney general for Northern Ireland, saying all the amendments that have been tabled by him, and by Bill Cash, comply with international law.

He goes on:

Unless the goalposts have been shifted by the government, I see no reason why the prime minister and the minister couldn’t accept these amendments and enable us to strengthen this bill once and for all.

Robert Jenrick speaking in the debate
Robert Jenrick speaking in the debate Photograph: Parliament TV

Jenrick says the government cites Albania, and the large number of Albanian people who have been returned, as evidence the bill will work.

But he says almost all of the Albanians who have returned have been foreign offenders. The issue is different, he says.

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Robert Jenrick tells MPs he does not accept government’s claim Rwanda would not accept tougher bill

Robert Jenrick, the Conservative former immigration minister, is speaking now. He has tabled the key rebel amendments backed by Tories who want the bill to be tougher.

He says the bill as drafted will not work.

Ministers in other countries want the policy to work, because they want something in place to deter illegal migration, he says.

Chris Bryant (Lab) intervenes to say he agrees with Jenrick that the bill won’t work. But he says the danger of crossing the Channel ought to be the strongest deterrent possible, but that does not stop people coming. So why will the bill act as a deterrent?

Jenrick says ignores the point, and just argues that currently there is no deterrent in place.

Jenrick is now talking about his amendment that would stop individuals appealing against removal. (It is amendment 21 – one of 16 amendments that Jenrick has either tabled or signed.)

He says the bill as drafted does tighten up the opportunity for legal challenges.

But it still allows legal challenges, and if someone makes a successful challenge, NGOs will school other asylum seekers into what they need to say to win an appeal.

He says the UK only has 2,000 spaces where it can hold people in immigration removal centres.

But 1,200 people arrived one day in August, he says.

That means the country does not have the capacity to hold all the people who arrive. They would have to be bailed to hotels, and then they would abscond. The scheme would be seen to have failed, he says.

Tim Loughton (Con) says this amendment might make the bill unworkable, at least in the eyes of the Rwandan government. (Rwanda said it would not support the policy if it broke international law.) What would happen then?

Jenrick says he does not accept this argument. He says Rwanda is not party to the European convention on human rights. And, if the policy were to be ruled illegal, that would be because of what was happening in Rwanda.

And he says, if the UK government was really concerned about this, it would not be proposing a policy deemed unlawful by UNHCR.

He says he is not blaming Rwanda. He says it was a mistake for the government to get Rwanda to issue the statement saying it would not back a tougher bill.

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