By Andrew MacAskill, Michael Holden and Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was scrambling on Monday to get enough support for his flagship immigration policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda after some lawmakers in his party said a planned emergency law was not tough enough.
Sunak is facing a critical test of his authority with politicians on the right and the left of the Conservative Party threatening to vote against the bill when it goes before parliament on Tuesday.
In a boost late on Monday, a centrist group of lawmakers in the One Nation faction recommended that its members back the bill but warned that they would not accept any amendments that toughened the legislation at a later stage.
That came after lawmakers on the party’s right wing said the legislation did not go far enough in restricting appeals from asylum seekers and only provided a “partial and incomplete solution”, underscoring the threat to the prime minister.
They said migrants could still bring individual claims stating Rwanda was an unsafe country, and the European Court of Human Rights could still interfere.
Sunak introduced the new bill after the UK Supreme Court declared the government’s scheme to deport thousands of migrants to Rwanda unlawful, saying the east African nation could not be considered a safe third country.
In response, Sunak agreed a new treaty with Rwanda and has brought forward emergency legislation designed to override domestic and international human rights law which would prevent deportations.
‘PULL THE BILL’
It would only take about 30 Conservative members of parliament to vote with opposition parties on Tuesday to defeat the bill.
Mark Francois, chair of one critical grouping within the party, told reporters the government would be “best advised to pull the bill and to come up with a revised version that works better to this one, which had so many holes in it”.
Danny Kruger, from the New Conservatives group in Sunak’s party, urged the government to improve the bill. One lawmaker who emerged from a meeting with the group late on Monday said no decision had been taken on whether to abstain or vote against the government.
The more moderate Conservatives had expressed opposing concerns that the legislation risks breaching Britain’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
For Sunak, struggling to revive a weak UK economy and trailing the main opposition party in opinion polls by around 20 points, the Rwanda policy has become a defining issue for his government, despite lawyers saying at every stage that it would not work.
Defeat in Tuesday’s vote would be a hammer blow for the scheme and severely weaken his leadership.
Even if the legislation is passed on its first vote in parliament, Sunak could still face attempts to toughen it up with amendments at a later stage.
A spokesman for Sunak earlier said the government remained “confident” in its approach and it will continue to have discussions with lawmakers.
“We continue to listen carefully to MPs (members of parliament), we are confident this is the toughest version of legislation that will enable us to stop the boats,” he said.
The government’s own legal advice produced on Monday said its policy was “tough but fair and lawful” and that it sought to uphold international obligations while accepting it was “a novel and contentious policy”.
“There are risks inherent in such an innovative approach but there is a clear lawful basis on which a responsible government may proceed,” the advice said. “A bill that sought to oust all individual claims would not provide such a basis.”
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kylie MacLellan and Michael Holden; Editing by Kate Holton, Bernadette Baum, Sharon Singleton and Tomasz Janowski)