U.K. PM Rishi Sunak loses ally as Immigration Minister resigns

"I cannot continue in my position when I have such strong disagreements with the direction of the government's policy on immigration," Robert Jenrick said

December 07, 2023 06:05 pm | Updated 06:05 pm IST - London

Minister of State (Minister for Immigration) Robert Jenrick walks on Downing Street in London, Britain. March 15, 2023.

Minister of State (Minister for Immigration) Robert Jenrick walks on Downing Street in London, Britain. March 15, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Britain’s Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has resigned from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet over “strong disagreements” with the government’s Rwanda policy of deporting illegal migrants.

Also read: U.K. Supreme Court says Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy is unlawful

Mr. Jenrick, who was seen as Mr. Sunak’s ally until recently, December 6, said he felt the emergency legislation presented in a parliamentary statement by his boss, Home Secretary James Cleverly, did not go far enough to end the “merry-go-round of legal challenges”.

Mr. Sunak responded to his resignation by saying he was “disappointed” but that his reasoning to quit the post was "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation".

"It is with great sadness that I have written to the Prime Minister to tender my resignation as Minister for Immigration,” Mr. Jenrick said in a post on X after questions in the House of Commons where he was missing from the front bench.

"I cannot continue in my position when I have such strong disagreements with the direction of the government's policy on immigration," Mr. Jenrick said.

Mr. Jenrick said that small boat crossings across the English Channel were doing "untold damage" to the country and the government needed to place "national interests above highly contested interpretations of international law".

"I have therefore consistently advocated for a clear piece of legislation that severely limits the opportunities for domestic and foreign courts to block or undermine the effectiveness of the policy," he wrote in his resignation letter to Mr. Sunak on Dec. 6.

"A bill of the kind you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience," Mr. Jenrick added.

In his reply, Mr. Sunak countered by saying that the new bill would be "the toughest piece of illegal migration legislation ever put forward by a U.K. government".

"If we were to oust the courts entirely, we would collapse the entire scheme. The Rwandan government has been clear that it would not accept the U.K. basing this scheme on legislation that could be considered in breach of our international law obligations,” Mr. Sunak said.

"There would be no point in passing a law that would leave us with nowhere to send people to," Mr. Sunak added.

The move marks a big upset for Mr. Sunak at a time when he is fine-tuning his general election pitch for 2024. The Opposition Labour Party reacted by dubbing the Conservatives presiding over a “chaotic” government.

“The British people deserve a government that will fix the issues that matter to working people, not a Tory circus of gimmicks and leadership posturing,” said Pat McFadden, Labour’s national Campaign Coordinator.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill is to be formally tabled in the House of Commons on Dec. 7. The Home Office claims it will conclusively deem Rwanda a safe country notwithstanding U.K. and international law.

“Through this new landmark emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts,” Mr. Sunak said in a statement.

“And we will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped. We have acted quickly to remedy the issues raised by the Supreme Court, proving that Rwanda is not just a safe country, but a modern, prosperous nation, and today we are ending the tactics used by people to cheat the system and betray the British people,” Mr. Sunak said.

This follows Mr. Cleverly’s visit to Kigali on December 5 when he signed a new treaty with Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vincent Biruta. Under the plan, the U.K. plans to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda while their asylum claims are processed and hopes it will act as a deterrent for people smugglers bringing migrants illegally to U.K. shores.

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