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Sunak preparing to withdraw UK from human rights convention, in response to prediction in migration rise

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on January 25, 2023 [Raşid Necati Aslım/Anadolu Agency]
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on January 25, 2023 [Raşid Necati Aslım/Anadolu Agency]

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is considering withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in order to implement a hard line immigration policy, amid warnings that 65,000 illegal migrants are expected to arrive in the country this year.

According to The Times newspaper, Sunak and Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, are finalising plans for the UK's most draconian immigration legislation to date, which officials say will take Britain to the "boundaries" of international law.

That legislation, the plans of which are set to be unveiled within weeks, could potentially be ruled as unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which senior figures say would push Sunak to pull the UK out of the ECHR.

The paper quoted one source familiar with Sunak's thinking as saying that he "has been clear he wants to introduce legislation that meets our international obligations. This bill will go as far as possible within international law. We are pushing the boundaries of what is legally possible, while staying within the ECHR. And we are confident that when it is tested in the courts, we will win."

The source continued by stating that "if this legislation gets onto the statute book and is found to be lawful by our domestic courts, but it is still being held up in Strasbourg, then we know the problem is not our legislation or our courts. If that's the case, then of course he will be willing to reconsider whether being part of the ECHR is in the UK's long-term interests."

If the European Court does strike it down and the government does indeed decide to withdraw from the Convention, it could reportedly try to do so before the UK general election in 2024.

There is apparently little chance it could take place before the election, however, as it will likely be contested by MPs and the House of Lords, including by those within the ruling Conservative party.

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One example of opposition is Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative Chair of the Commons Justice Committee, who said it would be a "red line" for many people in the party. "If Conservatives don't believe in the rule of law, what do we believe in? Are we going to put ourselves in the same company as Russia and Belarus? It's not a virtue to push the law to the limits … It would be unbelievable for a Conservative government to leave it."

Despite such internal opposition, the paper said, withdrawal from the Convention would be at the heart of the Conservative party's manifesto, making it the primary dividing issue between it and the Labour party.

The planned legislation and potential withdrawal from the EHRC come at a time when immigration is among the top three issues for voters in the year leading up to the next elections, along with the economy and the NHS.

Sunak's urgency to move forward with the matter especially comes as official estimates from a computer model predict that there will be almost a 50 per cent increase in illegal migration this year compared to last year, with 65,000 migrants predicted to come to the UK this year in comparison to 45,000 who claimed asylum last year.

The Prime Minister guaranteed the prevention of the influx of small boats to the island nation from across the English Channel, making it a pressing issue during his premiership.

The new planned legislation is an essential part of that goal, with a source from No. 10 telling the paper that "For the first time, if you come here illegally, you can expect to be detained and removed from the UK. It's as simple as that. You won't be able to claim asylum in the UK — which 90 per cent of small-boats arrivals did last year — and you won't be able to abuse our world-leading modern slavery protections either."

"Instead, your claim will be swiftly processed and you will be removed to a safe country, whether that's the country you came from if it is safe, like Albania, or a safe country we have an agreement with, like Rwanda", the source said.

READ: UNHCR appeals to UK to uphold international obligations as Sunak reveals 5-point immigration plan

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