Rishi Sunak has defended Lee Anderson after the deputy Tory chairman suggested ministers “ignore” the Supreme Court ruling on the Rwanda scheme, despite stressing the Government’s commitment to the rule of law.
The Prime Minister said he “absolutely” shared the frustrations of his colleagues over the legal setback but said he respected the decision handed down by five of the UK’s most senior judges.
Mr Anderson had suggested defying the ruling and “just put(ting) planes in the air now,” adding: “It’s time for the Government to show real leadership and send them back, same day.”
Asked whether he would sack the deputy chairman over his remarks given their apparent discord over the Government line, the PM said: “I think what Lee’s comments and indeed the comments of others do is reflect the strength of feeling in the country on this issue.
“And I absolutely share, actually, in the frustrations that my colleagues and indeed people across the country have about this issue.”
The Government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Kigali has been grounded for more than a year due to a series of legal challenges, and was dealt a major blow on Wednesday when the UK’s highest court ruled it was unlawful.
In a 56-page ruling, five of the UK’s senior judges agreed that there had not been a proper assessment of whether Rwanda was safe for asylum seekers and that the country’s history “cannot be effectively ignored or sidelined”.
In response, Mr Sunak promised emergency legislation and a new treaty with Kigali to ensure his flagship asylum policy is not blocked again.
The law would enable Parliament to endorse the upgraded agreement, he told a press conference in Downing Street.
“My patience has run thin, as indeed the country’s patience has run thin,” he said.
But he added: “I don’t agree with the (Supreme Court) decision, but I respect it and accept it. Rule of law is fundamental to our democracy.”
None of the £140 million the UK has already spent on the scheme can be clawed back and the new treaty is expected to add even more to the costs, with Labour accusing the Government of wasting taxpayer cash.
In the Commons, Home Secretary James Cleverly resisted calls to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the international Refugee Convention, telling Tory MPs: “I don’t believe those things are necessary.”
He added that “national governments can’t just vote themselves out of international commitments” and as a former foreign secretary he knew they were “incredibly powerful tools as we try and do good around the wider world
But the Prime Minister said that “if it becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions are still frustrating the plans at that point, I am prepared to change our laws and revisit those international relationships”.