Robert Jenrick resigns as immigration minister over government's Rwanda plan

By John Mercury December 7, 2023

Robert Jenrick has resigned from his post as immigration minister, citing “strong disagreements” with the government over the Rwanda policy.

The Tory MP for Newark said he did not think Rishi Sunak’s emergency legislation to revive the stalled asylum plan would “end the merry-go-round of legal challenges” which have so far paralysed the scheme.

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Robert Jenrick’s resignation letter in full
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He shared his resignation letter on X, moments after Home Secretary James Cleverly confirmed his colleague’s departure following repeated questioning in the Commons.

But in his response, the prime minister called the resignation “disappointing”, saying he feared the minister’s departure was “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation”, and that it was “our experience that gives us confidence that this will work”.

Speculation mounted after Mr Jenrick was missing from the frontbench as Mr Cleverly gave a statement in the Commons on the government’s bid to rescue the deal to deport immigrants who arrive illegally to East Africa, which the Supreme Court has ruled unlawful.

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‘Why did you resign, sir?’

When asked by MP Ashley Dalton if he had resigned, Mr Cleverly said: “That has been confirmed.”

Shortly afterwards Mr Jenrick posted on social media: “It is with great sadness that I have written to the prime minister to tender my resignation as Minister for Immigration.

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

In his letter, Mr Jenrick said he did not think that the emergency legislation, published early on Wednesday, went far enough to end future legal challenges.

The draft bill compels UK judges to treat the East African nation as a safe country and gives ministers powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not go as far as providing powers to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as hardliners including sacked home secretary Suella Braverman have demanded.

Complying with those demands would have left Mr Sunak facing an outcry from his MPs from the more centrist One Nation faction.

Rwanda also said they would pull out of the deal if it broke international law.

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Jenrick resigns: ‘Where is he?’

Small boats ‘doing untold damage’

However Mr Jenrick said small boat crossings were doing “untold damage” to the country and the government needed to place “national interests highly contested interpretations of international law”.

“I have therefore consistently advocated for a clear piece of legislation that severely limits the opportunities for domestic and foreign courts to block or undermine the effectiveness of the policy,” he wrote in his letter.

“A bill of the kind you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience.”

In Mr Sunak’s letter, the prime minister said the bill would be “the toughest piece of illegal migration legislation ever put forward by a UK government”.

He added: “If we were to oust the courts entirely, we would collapse the entire scheme. The Rwandan government have been clear that they would not accept the UK basing this scheme on legislation that could be considered in breach of our international law obligations.

“There would be no point in passing a law that would leave us with nowhere to send people to.”

Sunak is facing political fight of his life

It was but three hours after the prime minister published his emergency Rwanda legislation and issued a “unite or die” plea to his parliamentary party that his immigration minister gave his answer, and quit government. 

Rishi Sunak’s once close ally, Robert Jenrick, apparently didn’t want to unite and issued a resignation letter that clearly warned the prime minister that his policy was about to die.

He called the bill the PM was proposing “a triumph of hope over experience” as he warned that the “stakes for the country were too high for us to not pursue stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges”.

The Tories are a party fearing “electoral oblivion”, with many MPs believing any chance of survival has to rest on those planes getting off the ground next April.

The question now is what happens to the prime minister as he confronts the biggest crisis he has faced by a country mile.

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‘Tory circus of gimmicks’

Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns welcomed Mr Jenrick’s resignation adding: “I know what a decent man he is and how he adores his family. This may be the death knell for Sunak’s leadership.”

However the move was attacked by Opposition MPs, with the Lib Dems saying it is “yet more Conservative chaos as another minister flees this sinking ship”.

Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator said: “The British people deserve a government that will fix the issues that matter to working people, not a Tory circus of gimmicks and leadership posturing.”

Mr Sunak promised the emergency legislation after the Supreme Court threw out the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda last month, citing concerns over the country’s asylum process and the fact people could be sent back to the country they were fleeing – something which is against international law.


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