The Justice Secretary suggested the Government will not cede to right-wing Tory MPs by toughening up the Rwanda Bill – despite their threats to vote it down.
Alex Chalk stressed ministers’ commitment to “staying within the four corners of our international legal obligations”, including by allowing individual appeals by asylum seekers – a clause disliked by hardliners.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak won a crunch vote in the Commons on his emergency legislation aimed at reviving the plan to deport some asylum seekers to the African nation.
But the victory is temporary, with right-wing Tory factions making clear they could vote against the draft law when it returns to the Commons next year unless amendments are made.
Rebels who abstained said Mr Sunak told colleagues he is “prepared to entertain tightening the Bill”.
But Mr Chalk said that while the Government is “willing to listen to sensible suggestions”, it must uphold “certain aspects” to ensure the UK remains within international law.
Appearing before Parliament’s Human Rights Committee on Wednesday, he said the Government is “committed” to remaining within the European Convention of Human Rights, which it does “so long as there is the ability of an individual to get before the court to advance their points, which might relate to their own specific circumstances”.
Right-wing groupings including the European Research Group (ERG) want to see the Bill amended to remove limited allowances for personal claims against being sent to Kigali.
Asked if he could reassure MPs and peers on the committee that ministers will not make this change, Mr Chalk said: “The Prime Minister and the Government are of course willing to listen to sensible suggestions and insights. All of those are intelligent and highly able people.
“However, we do think that there are certain aspects which are important to uphold to ensure that we remain within international law.
“The reason for that is, as I say, one, because we think that there is a proper interest in UK supporting the international rules-based order… But not just that. It wouldn’t be terribly sensible, we would argue, to do something which might collapse the agreement, because Rwanda would walk away.”
Mr Chalk, who belongs to the more moderate wing of the party, added: “Of course, there may be differences of views, but we will also need to ensure that whatever sensible ideas come up, we remain within the four corners of our international legal obligations.”
Earlier, James Cleverly insisted the Safety of Rwanda Bill will not be killed by rebel MPs as he sought to play down fractures in the Tory ranks following days of bitter division.
The Home Secretary said he wants to continue to work with the Conservative right to “understand their thinking”.
“But I can’t see if someone’s got a concern that the Bill might not be as strong as they would like, killing the Bill doesn’t strike me as the best way of doing that, because if the Bill isn’t on the statute books it can’t possibly succeed,” he told Sky News.
Former home secretary Suella Braverman, who was among the high-profile Tories to abstain, tweeted: “While the Bill has some positive elements, the truth is that it will not stop the boats because there are too many loopholes.
“I welcome ministers’ willingness to tighten the bill.
“We now need to work together to fix it.”
Tuesday’s vote saw dozens abstain but no Tories vote against the legislation, with MPs approving it at second reading by 313 to 269, giving the Government a majority of 44.
Mr Francois said before the vote that his group and four other right-wing factions – the self-described “five families” – would be abstaining, with a view to putting forward amendments early next year.
The ERG leader said Mr Sunak had told colleagues he is “prepared to entertain tightening the Bill” and that, if the Prime Minister does not accept changes to ensure that happens, then the five caucuses “reserve the right to vote against” the Government at the next stage.
The group’s lawyers complained that the scope of the Bill to disapply elements of human rights law is “very narrow” and does not go far enough to address the risk of European judges blocking the plan.
If all non-Conservative MPs oppose the plan, a revolt by 29 Tories could be enough to defeat the Bill at its next test in Parliament.
After the forthcoming committee stage, there will be a third reading vote before the Bill is sent to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face heavy scrutiny.
The legislation is designed to prevent migrants who arrive via unauthorised routes from legally challenging deportation to Rwanda after the Supreme Court ruled the flagship asylum policy unlawful.
It seeks to revive the stalled plan by enabling Parliament to deem the country safe in order to block claims against being sent to Kigali made on the basis that it is unsafe.
Meanwhile, the Rwandan government confirmed it will be able to reject asylum seekers from the UK based on information including any criminal record.
While this does not mean an automatic rejection for criminals, officials in Kigali will assess on facts and decide who can come if the scheme gets off the ground.