A fresh Tory civil war over immigration has erupted after Rishi Sunak was warned not to give in to his right-wing backbenchers by ignoring human rights laws.
The prime minister is planning to unveil emergency legislation within days to ensure deportation flights to Rwanda finally get off the ground after the Supreme Court ruled the policy was illegal last month.
Members of different groups of right-wing Tory MPs are joining forces to pile pressure on Sunak to opt out of European Convention on Human Rights rulings on asylum cases as a way of preventing that happening again.
They are prepared to vote against the government bill if they do not think it goes far enough.
But in a fresh headache for the PM, the One Nation Caucus of moderate Tory MPs has warned him it would be “a mistake” to ignore the ECHR.
The group’s chair, Damian Green, said: “The UK has for generations been a world-leader on human rights. We have set the standard on what a law-abiding, well-functioning democracy should look like.
“Successive Conservative governments have played a vital role in creating and protecting the ECHR as well as the refugee and torture conventions. We have continued to hold these treaties dear and they should be seen as a fundamental part of protecting the UK’s democratic legacy.”
Green, who was Theresa May’s de facto deputy when she was prime minister, added: “The government should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and Human Rights Act and not rush such long term, difficult decisions.”
Matt Warman, another member of the One Nation Caucus, said: “Overriding the ECHR is a red line for a number of Conservatives.
“Protecting and reforming institutions and upholding human rights should be the cornerstone of any Conservative government.”
The row comes as James Cleverly became the third Tory home secretary to sign an agreement with the Rwandan government over the deportation plan.
Priti Patel first announced the controversial policy in April 2022, but since then not a single asylum seeker has been sent to the east African country.
The new treaty seeks to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court, especially the judges’ concerns that migrants could end up being sent back to their home countries.
Cleverly said: “I am grateful to our Rwandan partners for their willingness, dedication and commitment to strengthening this partnership further.
“The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered which would address their conclusions – this treaty responds directly to that.”