Sunak’s Rwanda plan threatens Good Friday agreement, say senior Tories
The MPs worry Downing Street’s reported intentions to disregard parts of the Human Rights Act could undermine the Good Friday agreement and strain UK-US relations
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 15: Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference, following the Supreme Court’s Rwanda policy judgement, at Downing Street on November 15, 2023 in London, England. The UK’s highest court has upheld the Court of Appeal’s previous ruling that the UK Government’s plan to send some asylum-seekers to Rwanda, aimed at deterring migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats, to be unlawful. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Senior Conservatives have raised concerns that Rishi Sunak’s stance against human rights laws, potentially enabling the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, might jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process.
These MPs echoed worries expressed by the White House, underscoring that Downing Street’s reported intentions to disregard parts of the Human Rights Act could undermine the Good Friday agreement and strain UK-US relations, The Guardian reported.
The warnings emerge as the prime minister faces mounting pressure from conservative-leaning MPs and ministers to restrict the legal pathways available to asylum seekers who have effectively contested their deportation to Rwanda.
Plans to reintroduce the policy of sending asylum seekers to East Africa, previously deemed unlawful by the supreme court, are anticipated to be revived by the government next week.
Sunak holds the belief that the government can address the court’s concerns by establishing a new treaty with Rwanda. This treaty is anticipated to be signed by James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, possibly next week, along with emergency legislation aimed at preventing future legal challenges to the policy.
In an interview, Cleverly acknowledged his growing frustration with the focus on Rwanda, emphasising that it shouldn’t be perceived as the sole solution. He highlighted its significance within the plans as a means to deter Channel crossings in small boats, forming part of a larger strategy.
Cleverly also expressed his belief that withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would endanger vital collaborations with other nations, including France. Such collaborations have played a pivotal role in addressing illegal crossings into the UK.
The New York Times reported on Thursday (23) concerns from senior White House officials about potential damage to the ECHR, a cornerstone of the Good Friday agreement, if legal challenges were blocked.
Sir Bob Neill, Conservative and chair of the justice select committee, echoed these concerns, emphasising that attempts to block human rights laws could jeopardise the authority of the ECHR and endanger peace in Northern Ireland.
He highlighted the critical role of laws like the European convention on human rights in the Good Friday agreement, stating that undermining this agreement would pose significant risks to the peace process. Neill stressed that selective adherence to the convention is not an option.
Regarding reports of potential opposition from numerous Tory MPs against undermining human rights laws or the ECHR, Neill affirmed agreement, stressing the importance of maintaining proportion in addressing the issue of immigration via boats while upholding international obligations.
“We want to stop the boats. But we can’t rip up our international obligations,” he said.
A government minister warned of potential resignations if attempts to block human rights laws jeopardised the Good Friday agreement.
“This agreement is fundamental to our place in the world. We all know what it means to Joe Biden. We are a government which believes in international law, and – I hope, I believe – the prime minister agrees,” the minister said.
The statement follows Sunak’s refusal to apologise for failing to meet immigration targets, as official records showed a net immigration peak of 745,000.
At the Nissan car plant in Sunderland, Sunak declined to apologise for missing manifesto promises on immigration levels, emphasising the need for a reduction in migration to sustainable levels.
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick proposed a five-point plan to Downing Street, suggesting a minimum annual salary requirement of £35,000 for work visas and a cap on visas for NHS and social care workers.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the proposed measures in reducing immigration, particularly if there’s no exemption for care workers.
She highlighted the challenge of attracting British workers due to low funding and unfavourable conditions in the care sector. Sumption also pointed out past operational issues when implementing similar skilled worker caps.
Meanwhile, Downing Street declined to comment on Sunak’s stance regarding Jenrick’s proposals, avoiding detailed discussions on policy development.
Boris Johnson, in a newspaper column, advocated for raising the minimum salary threshold to £40,000 a year.
“We have the powers to sort it out, and to change our immigration rules – which is exactly why the British people voted to take back those powers in 2016,” he said.
Despite his prior pledge to reduce overall immigration numbers, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on Thursday revealed a substantial difference between arrivals and departures, totalling 745,000 in the year up to December 2022, thrice the pre-Brexit levels.
MPs, particularly from the right-wing, such as former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, have urged Sunak to uphold the commitment to reducing these numbers.
However, efforts to limit foreign workers in the NHS and social care might face resistance due to severe staffing shortages in these sectors.