Robert Jenrick resigns over government's Rwanda plan

Immigration minister quits amid decision not to leave the European Convention on Human Rights
Jenrick leaving a cabinet meeting two days ago. Photo: amer ghazzal/Alamy Live News

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned last night, citing "strong disagreements with the direction of the government's policy on immigration" after it published emergency legislation in a bid to salvage its Rwanda asylum plan.

His departure follows speculation that he would leave if the delayed Rwanda asylum policy did not take the most hard-line option to leave the European Convention on Human Rights – something that many on the right of the Tory party had been calling for, including the former home secretary Suella Braverman.

"It is with great sadness that I write to tender my resignation as minister for immigration," said Jenrick in a letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak.

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

Jenrick has been replaced with two new Home Office ministers: Michael Tomlinson will be minister for illegal migration, and attend cabinet, while Tom Pursglove will be minister for legal migration and delivery. Robert Courts replaces Tomlinson as solicitor general having only been chair of parliament's Home Affairs committee for six weeks.

In his letter Jenrick said while he was "proud" of some of the steps the government  had made in tackling "illegal" migration, "stronger protections" were required than the government's new legislation provided. 

"In our discussions on the proposed emergency legislation you have moved towards my position, for which I am grateful," said Jenrick.

"Nevertheless, I am unable to take the currently proposed legislation through the Commons as I do 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.

"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."

He added: "...we said that we would stop the boats altogether. That is what the public rightly demands and expects of us. We must truly mean that we will do 'whatever it takes' to deliver this commitment when we say so.

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

Jenrick announced his resignation after home secretary James Cleverly outlined the government's legislation in parliament – the key objective of which was to declare Rwanda a safe country.

The Supreme Court last month ruled the government's Rwanda scheme unlawful because asylum seekers could face risk of ill-treatment by reason of "refoulement" in the country, undermining the government's core policy in its "Stop The Boats" strategy. 

“We will introduce legislation tomorrow in the form of the safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) bill to give effect to the judgment of parliament that Rwanda is a safe country, not withstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law," Cleverly told MPs last night. 

However, he conceded in the draft bill he was "unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the... [bill] are compatible with the [European Convention on Human Rights] Convention rights, but the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill."

Ahead of Jenrick's resignation, former home secretary Suella Braverman made a statement in the House of Commons and said it was "destined to fail". 

"The Conservative Party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill destined to fail," she told MPs. 

"Do we fight for sovereignty or let our party die? I refuse to sit by and allow the trust that millions of people have put in us be discarded like an inconvenient detail.

"If we summon the political courage to do what is truly necessary, and fight for the interests of the British people, then I am confident that we will regain their support. And, if the prime minister leads that fight, he will have my total support."

Labour has criticised the Conservatives for the division in the party over the course of the day over the Rwanda deal. 

"Well this is total chaos on the government and in the Conservative party," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper in the House of Commons on Wednesday night amid growing speculation Jenrick had resigned over the legislation. 

"This is the desperate dying days of a party ripping itself apart, clearly totally out of ideas, lost any sense of leaderhsip or direction. 

"We've got the home secretary making a statement but the rumours that the immigration minister has resigned. 

"Where is he? Perhaps that he can make that the first question that he answers: whether he still has an immigration minister in place." 

Responding to reports of Jenrick's resignation, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said "another minister flees this sinking ship of a government". 

"Rishi Sunak is no longer in control of his party and has lost the support of the country. 

"The prime minister knows that his Rwanda plan is totally unworkable, immoral and a complete waste of taxpayers' money. It is time the government scrapped it and focused on fixing the broken asylum system instead of fighting amongst themselves."

The reaction on the right of the Tory party, however, seems to be more positive – with Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns welcoming Jenrick's resignation on social media.

"Well done to Robert Jenrick for resigning," said Jenkyns.

"As his former PPS when he was secretary of state I saw his strength and how he stood up to civil servants, I know what a decent man he is and how he adores his family.

"This may be the death knell for Sunak's leadership."

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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