Despite all the wrangling over Rishi Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ plan, the ECHR is still making the same threats. And there’s a real risk it could take the UK straight back to square one with its plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
In spite of threats of rebellion from Conservative MPs, the Safety of Rwanda Bill made it through the Commons earlier this month.
MPs were won over, in part, by the PM’s promise to ignore Rule 39 orders – a measure previously used by the ECHR to block the removal of migrants to Rwanda in June 2022.
Amendments introduced to toughen up the legislation were rejected and – to the Prime Minister’s delight – his bill sailed through by 320 votes to 276.
ECHR President Síofra O’Leary warned that the UK would be in breach of the convention if it ignores rule 39 orders
But just a matter of days later, the shine of that victory is already being rubbed off.
Giving a press conference this morning, ECHR President Síofra O’Leary warned that the UK would be in breach of the convention if it ignores rule 39 orders.
Providing listeners with a vague sense of deja vu, she said the UK has a “clear legal obligation” to comply with the orders, saying it would be “violating its obligations” if it ignores them.
It is an argument the UK has heard over and over again when it comes to the legality of its plan to send migrants to Rwanda. And the fact that it is being raised once again, just days after Sunak’s so-called victory in the Commons, is both worrying and also exactly as expected.
Speaking to GB News, Tory MP Jonathan Gullis, one of the Rwanda rebels who voted for both right-wing amendments to the legislation, came just short of saying “I told you so” to the PM.
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The problem for Sunak is that the current legislation still gives the EU a large amount of scope to do the “meddling” that these MPs are so concerned about
He said that O’Leary’s remarks go “to the heart of precisely why I, and 60 other colleagues, were concerned” during the debating of the legislation.
Meanwhile, former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost and ERG Deputy Chairman David Jones suggested O’Leary was meddling in the UK’s business. Frost said the comments were a “clear attempt to influence the UK’s debate on the Rwanda Bill at a sensitive moment”, while Jones claimed there is “no reason why the UK should consider itself bound” by rule 39 orders.
While their comments are less of a dig at the Prime Minister – with both of them urging the Government to press ahead with their plan to ignore the European judges – they should still worry Sunak.
The problem for the PM is that the current legislation still gives the EU a large amount of scope to do the “meddling” that these MPs are so concerned about.
Whether Sunak will have the minerals to stick to his guns and ignore the almost inevitable rule 39 orders is yet to be seen. But the current rhetoric being taken by the ECHR suggests they won’t let him get away with it without a fight. And isn’t a fight with the courts precisely what Sunak set out to avoid when the Safety of Rwanda Bill was introduced to Parliament?