Good morning. Rishi Sunak is in “facing his worst week as prime minister” territory. All prime ministers have weeks that are described by the media as their most difficult yet, and this does not necessarily mean all his lost. Tony Blair was regularly having “worst weeks yet” throughout his entire 10-year premiership. But Sunak really is in a dire state. He is facing near-certain electoral defeat at some point in the next 13 months and now, for the first time since he became leader, there is real speculation about some sort of leadership challenge. In what will be seen by many non-Tories as a sign that the party is flirting with insanity, there has even been talk of a Boris Johnson comeback.
Sunak faces two particular challenges today. First, he is spending most of the day at the Covid inquiry, where he is likely to face questions about his lockdown-sceptical stance as chancellor that led him to be nicknamed “Dr Death” by Prof Dame Angela McLean, who is now the government’s chief scientific adviser (presumably that did not come up at her interview). Sunak will also be asked about his “eat out to help out” scheme. Tom Ambrose has a preview here.
But, more importantly, two groups of Conservative MPs will meet to decide their stance on the new Rwanda deportation bill that is getting its second reading in the Commons. This is the issue that is creating a division in the party deep enough to pose an existential threat to Sunak’s premiership. It seems likely the bill will pass tomorrow, but only because Tory MPs will put off the key fight until report stage after Christmas, when rightwingers will try to amend it in one direction, centrists will try yanking it in the opposite direction, and at that point there might be no bill left left the party can unite around.
Even if the bill survives the Commons, it is bound to face challenge in the House of Lords. But perhaps the biggest danger of all for Sunak is that the bill does become law – only for it to fail to totally to “stop the boats” because of ongoing legal challenges (which is what his critics are saying is bound to happen). Rowena Mason has the latest on this here.
Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, was doing a media round this morning. He defended the bill, claiming that it would stop 99.5% of appeals against deportation. He told Times Radio:
I think my simple message is this plan is working, let’s unite behind it and get this further legislation through.
This legislation, by the way, based on Home Office calculations means that of the cases which currently allow people to appeal, that only about one out of 200 cases ultimately would be able to get through that appeal. So this is a very significant, even dramatic move, designed to make the Rwanda route work.
Shapps was referring to Home Office modelling leaked to the Times. In his story Matt Dathan says:
The Home Office believes 99.5% of individual legal challenges submitted by migrants will fail to block their deportation to Rwanda under Rishi Sunak’s emergency law, leaked documents reveal.
Modelling prepared by officials to assess the risk of individual legal challenges scuppering Rishi Sunak’s emergency Rwanda bill predicts nine in ten of all claims would be rejected with no right of appeal within ten days of their arrival in the UK …
The department believes that of the 10% that are granted a hearing, 90% will be struck out at the second stage of the legal process. Only half of the remaining cases that are allowed to progress to an upper tribunal appeal would succeed and lead to the migrant remaining in the UK, according to the Home Office modelling.
It means that if 1,000 migrants were to lodge individual legal challenges against their removal, 900 would be rejected at the first stage and only five migrants would ultimately succeed in blocking their deportation.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10.30am: Rishi Sunak starts giving evidence to the Covid inquiry. He is due to give evidence all day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Noon: Sir Bill Cash briefs members of the European Research Group and other rightwing Conservative groups in parliament on the findings of the ERG’s legal “star chamber” on the viability of the Rwanda bill.
1.30pm: Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, holds talks with the main parties in Northern Ireland on efforts to resume power sharing at Stormont.
3pm: Sir Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office, gives evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about the Rwanda deportation policy.
6pm: The Conservative One Nation Caucus meets to consider its stance on the Rwanda bill.
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