Conservative MPs are demanding to see the legal advice for Rishi Sunak’s controversial Channel asylum laws as the threat of rebellion grows.
The calls are being led by moderate Tories who have voiced deep concerns about the Illegal Migration Bill potentially breaching international laws, warning it would be a “major problem”.
But a senior MP suggested to i that dozens of backbenchers on the Tory right would welcome seeing the legal advice as it would bolster their calls to derogate from European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), believing it is the only way to make the plan work.
Moderate Tories are also likely to try and amend the Bill to expand safe and legal routes and to strengthens the rights of trafficking victims, who the legislation excludes form special protections, and children, who will be detained under the laws if they cross the Channel with their family.
It comes after Theresa May delivered a devastating verdict on the Prime Minister’s proposals as they were debated in the Commons on Monday night, insisting they are unlikely to work and will “shut the door” on victims of modern slavery being trafficked to the UK.
Some insiders believe the former prime minister could make an explosive intervention by backing an amendment to the Bill on modern slavery, but allies of Mrs May said she would not make up her mind until any plan to change the legislation was put in front of her.
It came as Tory ex-minister Stephen Hammond, a member of the One Nation party caucus, called for a summary of the Government’s legal advice after Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted the Bill was more likely than not to breach international law, potentially including the ECHR and the Refugee Convention.
Mr Hammond told i that the question of legal advice would be a “pressure point” as the laws pass through Parliament.
“I’m not the only person who’s said to the whips’ office we’ll be wanting to see this as the Bill passes,” he said.
“I and a number of others have said the Conservative Government, or any government, shouldn’t be breaking international law.
“If they do, then that will become a major problem, hence all the fights they’d had over other bills over the last few years.”
Separately in a statement published on his website, Mr Hammond said he wanted assurances on the expansion of safe and legal routes as well as amendments “which specifically deal with the rights of sex trafficked young women and of children”, insisting his support would be “conditional” on these changes.
“Under the current Bill if they came to the UK via a newly defined illegal route would not be able to seek refuge, leaving them at the mercy of criminal gangs,” he said.
“It is essential that exemptions and adequate protections are in place to ensure the safety of these most vulnerable people.”
Meanwhile, Tory ex-justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland said the Government “risks looking guilty of ineffective authoritarianism” due to the Bill and also voiced his opposition to the detention of women and children.
It came as Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands apologised to the head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, after an email was sent in Ms Braverman’s name blaming an “activist blob” including “civil servants” for blocking attempts to stop small boat crossings, which the Home Secretary is said not to have signed off.
In a letter to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said Mr Hands had made assurances that “he has already taken action to change procedures in (Conservative HQ)” to ensure there is “not a repeat of this incident”.
Meanwhile a judge on Tuesday ruled that asylum seekers facing removal to Rwanda can appeal against Home Office decisions over alleged errors in the consideration of whether relocation poses a risk to their human rights.