LONDON: Rishi Sunak, 42, the Indian-origin British Prime Minister, is fighting with his back to the wall to save his premiership as well as his political career.
Sunak, who has staked his future on passing an immigration bill in the British Parliament, which, he thinks, will ensure asylum seekers to the United Kingdom are sent to Rwanda and consequently deter such people from illegally coming to Britain. The United Kingdom has signed an agreement with Rwanda to despatch illegal immigrants to the east African country.
Summoning a media conference on Thursday, he told journalists the bill will make prospect of courts blocking any deportation decision “vanishingly rare”. He said: “That means that this bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off.”
Three weeks ago, the UK’s Supreme Court struck down the move as in its view, the policy was unlawful, violated human rights, among other contraventions. It also felt Rwanda was not a safe place. Commenting on this, Sunak said: “You had better believe we’ve blocked those too (in the bill).” He emphasised the UK was also willing to ignore injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights.
However, passage of the bill in the House of Commons next week has boiled down to a confidence vote on Sunak. The main opposition Labour party, the Scottish nationalists and the Liberal Democrats are determined to oppose it. If about 28 ruling Conservative party MPs join them, the legislation could in fact be defeated.
Perhaps most vocal among the dissatisfied Conservative MPs is Suella Braverman, whose father is Goan and mother Tamil and who was last month sacked as Home Secretary in the Sunak government. She and her allies want the bill to go further by disapplying the European convention on human rights in entirety.
The Guardian newspaper commented: “It is not yet clear whether his (Sunak’s) legal arguments are as robust as his rhetoric, and today he sounded more uncertain and defensive than he did when going over this ground last month”. The Daily Mail and the Sun, both generally supportive of the Conservative party, asked questions at the media conference which reflected doubts in their minds in the matter.
Braverman has behaved like a woman scorned since her dismissal from the cabinet. She, first, made public a searing letter written to Sunak. Following that, she has been suspected on British media of plotting to unseat Sunak. She was asked: “Isn’t the truth that you’re a headline grabber that does it by spreading poison even in your own party?” She answered: “The truth is… I sought to be honest and sometimes honesty is uncomfortable. If that upsets polite society, I’m sorry about that.”
She is of the view that the bill, even if passed by Parliament, “just won’t work”. Other right-wing Conservative MPs and activists feel the draft in its present form would still give rise to legal challenges and stop planes from taking off for Rwanda.
If Sunak’s gamble fails, commentators believe he’s toast. He could resign, be confronted by a leadership contest or be forced to call a snap general election, which he will almost certainly lose. Labour are 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls.
It is not just the hard right but also centrists in Sunak’s party who have reservations about the bill. The latter because they are worried that disregard of international human rights norms will damage Britain’s prestige in the world.
On Wednesday night, the Immigration Minister who was in-charge of navigating the controversial bill through parliament – Robert Jenrick – resigned, thereby delivering a bitter blow to Sunak. The final draft was apparently not to his liking. In his resignation letter he described it as “a triumph of hope over experience”. Jenrick is now seen as heading a right-wing rebellion in the Conservative benches.