Robert Jenrick: UK immigration minister resigns as Rwanda legislation unveiled

Jenrick says he has 'strong disagreements' with government’s approach to immigration

Robert Jenrick told the Prime Minister that draft legislation aimed at stopping boats crossing the Channel 'does not go far enough'. PA
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British immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned from Rishi Sunak's Cabinet on Wednesday after the Prime Minister rejected demands to opt out of European human rights laws to revive the Rwanda policy.

Mr Jenrick told Mr Sunak on Wednesday that his new draft legislation aimed at stopping small boats crossing the English Channel “does not go far enough” and is a “triumph of hope over experience”.

Speaking on Thursday, former home secretary Suella Braverman said the “sorry truth” was that new legislation to revive the strategy to stop small boats “won't work”.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “The reality is, and the sorry truth is, it won't work. And it will not stop the boats. That's my opinion having read it in the last 12, 24 hours.”

She said there are “elements that should be welcomed” in the new bill.

“But taken as a whole and looking at the reality of the challenges that are involved in detaining people, removing people and getting them to Rwanda – this is a very litigious field and there are lots of legal frameworks that apply – the reality is and the sorry truth is that it won't work and it will not stop the boats,” she added.

Mr Jenrick, a long-term political ally of the Prime Minister said he had to quit because he has “such strong disagreements” with the government’s approach to immigration.

Mr Sunak wrote back to Mr Jenrick to tell him his resignation was “disappointing”.

“I fear that your departure is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation,” he wrote.

“It is our experience that gives us confidence that this will work. If we were to oust the courts entirely, we would collapse the entire scheme.”

Mr Sunak pointed to Rwanda’s claim that they would not accept the UK breaching international law, adding: “There would be no point in passing a law that would leave us with nowhere to send people to.”

Mr Jenrick in recent weeks had been taking an increasingly firm approach over plans to stop asylum seekers making unauthorised crossings of the Channel.

The draft bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful because of risks to refugees.

The legislation, which must be voted on by Parliament, gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not provide powers to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights, as hardliners including sacked home secretary Ms Braverman have demanded.

Ms Braverman’s allies said that the bill is “fatally flawed”, indicating that she believes it will quickly lead the Conservatives into “electoral oblivion”.

Mr Sunak reportedly told Conservative backbenchers at the 1922 Committee shortly before Mr Jenrick’s resignation became apparent that they must “unite or die”.

Mr Jenrick had been conspicuously absent during a statement to the Commons on the new legislation by James Cleverly, who has been Home Secretary for less than a month.

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Shortly after Mr Cleverly confirmed the resignation of the minister from his department, Mr Jenrick published his departure letter to the Prime Minister on social media.

He said he was “grateful” for Mr Sunak moving towards his position on the legislation, but does 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,” Mr Jenrick wrote.

“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 deterrence.”

Having supported Mr Sunak in both of last year’s Tory leadership contests, Mr Jenrick reminded him that they have been “friends for a long time”, but said they must do “whatever it takes” to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

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

Updated: December 07, 2023, 12:06 PM