A defiant British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appealed to his Conservative Party on Thursday to unite behind his plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, warning colleagues that if he toughened it any further the whole scheme could collapse.
Sunak is facing the biggest challenge to his year-long tenure as he tries to stop lawmakers on the Conservative Party’s right wing from rebelling over their demand that Britain should quit international treaties to set its own migration policy.
His immigration minister quit on Wednesday and he is facing questions as to whether he can get his key policy through a vote in parliament. Some Conservative lawmakers said on Thursday that Sunak could face a leadership challenge.
At a press conference in Downing Street, Sunak said if the government went any further in disregarding human rights law in the legislation, Rwanda would abandon the deal.
“It is the only approach because going any further, that difference is an inch, but going any further means that Rwanda will collapse the scheme and then we will have nowhere to send anyone to and that is not a way to get this going,” he said.
“What everyone should do is support this bill.”
The draft legislation comes three weeks after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send those arriving in small boats on the southern coast of England, and that the plan would breach British and international law.
The Rwanda scheme is at the centre of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration. The court’s decision was a setback for Sunak who is struggling to revive a weak economy and is heavily trailing the main opposition party ahead of an election expected next year.
Sunak will now try to get the legislation through parliament, but he said he would not make it a confidence vote in an attempt to shore up party support. Any loss in a confidence vote can trigger a national election.
The first vote on the legislation will take place in parliament on Dec. 12.
Some members of parliament in his party said for the first time since Sunak entered office a ago there was a possibility he could face a leadership challenge.
One Conservative politician, who reluctantly supports the Rwanda plan, said the last year had shown that his colleagues can be ruthless in removing a struggling prime minister.
“I have a feeling of deja vu,” he said.
So far only one Conservative lawmaker, Andrea Jenkyns, has publicly called for a no confidence vote, but she said six of her colleagues have done so privately.
Jenkyns said on Wednesday that the resignation of the immigration minister “may be the death knell for Sunak’s leadership”.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 53 of the 350 Conservative lawmakers in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee.