UK MPs seek revised immigration bill


The hard-line, anti-immigration section among Conservatives had referred the matter to a team of lawyers called “The Star Chamber”…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, 43, was looking at an uncertain future on Monday afternoon, following a right-wing faction of his Conservative party being informed that a parliamentary Bill on which he has virtually staked his future was a “partial and incomplete solution” to the problem of sending back illegal asylum seekers from Britain.

The government wants to deport such arrivals to Rwanda, with which it has signed a treaty.

Immigration has been a major issue in Britain for some time. One of the main reasons why Britons who wanted the UK to leave the European Union (EU) was to stop uncontrolled immigration. The free movement of people that was mandatory if a country was a member of the EU simply did not allow this.

However, immigration from EU states has since Britain exited the EU in 2016 been more than replaced by migration from outside the EU, including tens of thousands of people fleeing their nations, desperately crossing the English Channel on inadequate boats, to arrive in the UK. Net migration – namely the difference between people leaving the UK for good and entering to settle in it – stood at nearly 800,000 in 2022.

The hard-line, anti-immigration section among Conservatives, known as the European Research Group (ERG), had referred the matter of whether Sunak’s proposed Bill – set to be voted upon on Tuesday – to a team of lawyers called “The Star Chamber”.

The lawyers’ opinion was: “The Bill overall provides a partial and incomplete solution to the problem of legal challenges in the UK courts being used as stratagems to delay or defeat the removal of illegal migrants to Rwanda.”

Commenting on Sunak’s claim that the draft Bill is the “toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by a UK Government”, the lawyers said: “We do not believe that it goes far enough to deliver the policy as intended.”

The opinion listed that the Bill as tabled does not exclude individual legal challenges and its scope of disapplying provisions of the European Court of Human Rights and other international instruments was “very narrow”, among other alleged incapacities.

The chair of ERG Mark Francois stated: “This Bill means that individuals can keep tying the Government up in legal knots. That’s why it needs to be to be redrafted.”

He added: “This really is the last chance so the Government would be well advised to get it right.”

BBC noticed about 30 Conservative MPs attending the meeting with The Star Chamber. If all of them vote against the Bill in its current form, Sunak’s motion could be defeated. The confidence of his lawmakers in him could then become an issue.

Whether that will lead to a resignation by Sunak, a leadership contest, or a snap general election remains to be seen. What is fairly certain is that it will weaken his already un-cemented position as Prime Minister – an unusual case of a political lightweight becoming head of government because nobody else in his party was fit for or wanted the job.

Indeed, breathing down his neck is an unabated call for Sunak’s former boss Boris Johnson’s return.

Johnson lost the support of his MPs after what was perceived to be his cavalier approach to the Covid-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, David Cameron, who was a promising Prime Minister for six years before losing the Brexit vote, was recently appointed as Foreign Secretary by Sunak and is perceived among political commentators to be poised to take over at the helm, if and when, Sunak bites the dust.

Sunak is being buffeted by two diametrically opposite views within his party. The centrist and moderate MPs, who call themselves One Nation Conservatives, reportedly believe the Bill as introduced would break international laws and contravene United Nations conventions. Their formal conclusion was expected to be announced on Monday evening.

In what is the toughest week of his career in public life, Monday began with Sunak being unsparingly cross-examined by a barrister at the Covid-19 Inquiry regarding his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the pandemic. He began his deposition by saying he was “deeply sorry” to those who lost loved ones and to “all those who suffered”.

Medical officers of the British government had earlier told the Inquiry that Sunak’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme in August 2020 to help pubs and restaurants during the Covid-19 crisis was not run past them and they questioned the wisdom of the policy.

Sunak, however, defended the decision, saying it was designed to save jobs and took place after the ‘safe reopening’ of pubs and restaurants.

Conservative MPs from the largest single group in the parliamentary party – counting more than 100 members, almost a third of the total – have the numbers to bring down the bill.

But as a wing, they have a vested interest in keeping Sunak in power, as the failure of the bill would imperil his position and open the door for a challenge from the right.

Nevertheless, many are concerned that the bill sets aside some of the UK’s obligations in international law and have been taking legal advice from the former solicitor general Lord Garnier, who has told the BBC that the legislation is “political nonsense and legal nonsense”.

Matt Warman, a former minister who is a leading member in the caucus, wrote on the Conservative Home website on Monday that many of its members worried that declaring Rwanda a safe country in law was a push too far. But he expressed caution about whether now was the time for the parliamentary party to “push the prime minister off a tightrope”.

This week’s vote was not procedurally the moment where amendments would be laid, he added, but it was where all sides had a chance to set out their stalls and for the government to provide vital reassurances. Any big group of MPs was likely to hold a range of views, and the next steps “shouldn’t be to push for a further compromise that might break a delicate balance”.

On Monday evening, after a meeting in Westminster, the group announced that it will vote for the legislation.

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