Immigration minister Robert Jenrick quits over 'fatally flawed' Rwanda bill, saying it 'does not go far enough'

Thursday 7 December 2023

Rishi Sunak has been rocked by the resignation of his immigration minister after rejecting demands to opt out of European human rights laws to revive the Rwanda policy.

Robert Jenrick told the Prime Minister on Wednesday that his new draft legislation aimed at stopping small boat crossings "does not go far enough" and is a "triumph of hope over experience."

Mr Sunak’s long-term political ally argued that he had to quit because he has "such strong disagreements" with the Government’s approach to immigration.

Mr Jenrick had been seen as taking an increasingly firm approach over plans to stop asylum seekers making unauthorised crossings of the Channel in small boats in recent weeks.

The draft Bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation, which must be voted on by Parliament, gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not go as far as providing powers to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, as hardliners including sacked home secretary Suella Braverman have demanded.

Robert Jenrick's resignation letter addressed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Letter from Rishi Sunak to Robert Jenrick after he resigned

Mrs Braverman’s allies made clear that the legislation is "fatally flawed", indicating that she believes it will quickly lead the Tories into "electoral oblivion."

Mr Sunak reportedly told Conservative backbenchers at the 1922 Committee shortly before Mr Jenrick’s resignation became apparent that they must "unite or die."

The immigration minister had been conspicuously absent during a statement to the Commons on the new legislation by James Cleverly, who has been Home Secretary for less than a month.

Shortly after Mr Cleverly confirmed the resignation of the minister from his department, Mr Jenrick published his departure letter to the Prime Minister on social media.

Image from UK Parliament, Maria Unger

Image from UK Parliament, Maria Unger

He said he was "grateful" for Mr Sunak moving towards his position on the legislation, but added he does not "believe it provides us with the best possible chance of success."

"A Bill of the kind you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience," he wrote.

"The stakes for the country are too high for us not to pursue the stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme and negating its intended deterrent."

Having supported Mr Sunak in both of last year’s Tory leadership contests, Mr Jenrick reminded him that they have been "friends for a long time", but said they must do "whatever it takes" to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

"This emergency legislation is the last opportunity to prove this, but in its current drafting it does not go far enough," he added.

Mr Sunak wrote back to Mr Jenrick to tell him his resignation was "disappointing."

"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," Mr Sunak said.

"If we were to oust the courts entirely, we would collapse the entire scheme."

The Prime Minister pointed to Rwanda’s claim that they would not accept the UK breaching international law, adding: "There would be no point in passing a law that would leave us with nowhere to send people to."