Dec 7, 2023
Rishi Sunak Holds Press Conference as Rwanda Crisis Deepens Transcript
Rishi Sunak is holds a Downing Street press conference after appointing two new immigration ministers to replace Robert Jenrick. Read the transcript here.
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Good morning. Today the government has introduced the toughest anti-illegal immigration law ever. I know that it will upset some people, and you will hear a lot of criticism about it, so it’s right to explain why I’ve decided to do this. I’m the child of immigrants. I understand why some people take the risk of getting into unsafe dinghies to cross open waters. It’s because the United Kingdom is an incredible country. It offers opportunity, hope, and safety. But the difference is my family came here legally. Like most immigrants, they integrated into local communities, worked hard to provide for their family, built lives and businesses, found friends and neighbors, and most of all they were really proud to become British. That feeling of pride, it cascades down the generations and grows, and that’s why you see so many children of immigrants sitting around the cabinet table.
But it’s not a given. Illegal immigration undermines not just our border controls, it undermines the very sense of fairness that is so central to our national character. We play by the rules, we put in our fair share, we wait our turn. Now if some people can just cut all of that out, you’ve not just lost control of your borders, you’ve fatally undermine the very fairness upon which trust in our system is based. That’s why this legislation is so necessary, to deliver an effective deterrent to those who wish to come here illegally, to restore people’s trust that the system is fair, and ultimately to stop the boats.
And so our bill, today, fundamentally addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns over the safety of Rwanda. I did not agree with that judgment, but I respect it. That is why we have spent the last three weeks working tirelessly to respond to their concerns and to guarantee Rwanda’s safety in a new legally binding international treaty. The Supreme Court were clear that they were making a judgment about Rwanda at a specific moment 18 months ago, and that the problems could be remedied. Today we are confirming that they have been, and that unequivocally Rwanda is a safe country. And today’s bill also ends the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have blocked our policy for far too long. We simply cannot have a situation where our ability to control our borders and stop people taking perilous journeys across the channel is held up in endless litigation in our courts. So this bill gives Parliament the chance to put Rwanda’s safety beyond question in the eyes of this country’s law.
Parliament is sovereign. It should be able to make decisions that cannot be undone in the courts. And it was never the intention of international human rights laws to stop a sovereign parliament removing illegal migrants to a country that is considered safe in both parliamentary statute and international law. So the bill does include what are known as “notwithstanding clauses”. These mean that our domestic courts will no longer be able to use any domestic or international law, including the Human Rights Act, to stop us removing illegal migrants.
Let me just go through the ways that individual illegal migrants try and stay. Claiming asylum, that’s now blocked. Abuse of our modern slavery rules, blocked. The idea that Rwanda isn’t safe, blocked. The risk of being sent to some other country, blocked. And spurious human rights claims, you’d better believe that we’ve blocked those too because we’re completely disapplying all the relevant sections of the Human Rights Act. And not only have we blocked all of these ways that illegal migrants will try and stay, we’ve also blocked their ability to try and stay by bringing a judicial review on any of those
Rishi Sunak (18:00):
… these grounds. That means that this bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off. The only extremely narrow exception will be that if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm, we have to recognize that as a matter of law. And if we didn’t, we’d undermine the treaty we’ve just signed with Rwanda.
As the Rwandans themselves have made clear. If we go any further, the entire scheme will collapse, and there is no point having a bill with nowhere to send people to. But I’m telling you now, we have set the bar so high that it will be vanishingly rare for anyone to meet it. And once you have been removed, you will be banned for life from traveling to the UK, settling here, or becoming a citizen.
But of course, even with this new law here at home, we could still face challenges from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. So let me repeat what I said two weeks ago. I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights. If the Strasbourg Court chooses to intervene against the express wishes of our sovereign parliament, I will do what is necessary to get flights off. And today’s new laws already make clear that the decision on whether to comply with interim measures issued by the European Court is a decision for British government ministers and British government ministers alone. Because it is your government, not criminal gangs or indeed foreign courts, who decides who comes here and who stays in our country.
Now of course, our Rwanda policy is just one part of our wider strategy to stop the boats, and that strategy is working. I’ve been Prime Minister for just over a year now, and for the first time small boat arrivals here are down by a third, even as illegal crossings in the Mediterranean have soared by 80%. Let me just repeat that. Small boat arrivals here are down by a third. To help achieve that, we’ve signed returns and cooperation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, and Georgia. Illegal working raids are up nearly 70%. 50 hotels are being returned to their local communities, and we are housing people in a new barge and in former military sites.
The initial asylum backlog is down from 92,000 to less than 20,000. We’ve returned over 22,000 illegal migrants. And as our deal with Albania shows, deterrence works. Last year a third of all those arriving in small boats were Albanian. This year we’ve returned 5,000 people and cut those arrivals by 90%. And Albanian arrivals have far more recourse to the courts than anyone under this new legislation, that’s why I’m so confident that this bill will work. Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, believes this bill will work. We will get flights off the ground, we will deter illegal migrants from coming here, and we will finally stop the boats.
Thank you. We turn some questions from the media. Could we start with the BBC?
Chris Mason (21:42):
Thank you Prime Minister. Chris Mason, BBC News. Are you saying to your MPs bluntly on all of this, “Back me or sack me?”
Rishi Sunak (21:51):
No. What I’m saying, not just to my MPs, but the entire country, is that I share their frustration. My patience with this has worn thin. One of my five priorities at the beginning of the year was to stop the boats, and I’m pleased that we’ve made progress. Down by a third, for the first ever time, by the way. That shows that our plan is working but we’ve got more to do, and that’s why this legislation is so important. We’ve got to end the legal merry-go-round that has blocked us from getting our Rwanda scheme up and running.
That’s what this legislation does. That’s what the new treaty that the home secretary signed this week does. And it will mean unequivocally that Rwanda is safe and there should be no more blocks to our ability to get people on planes and send them to Rwanda because that is critical. We must have a deterrent that says, “If you’ve come here illegally, you cannot stay and you will be removed.” And when we can get that up and running, as we have with Albania, we will see the numbers come down.
I’m absolutely committed to seeing this through because I share the British people’s frustration. It’s patently unfair what is happening at the moment, which is why it requires action like this. That is novel, that is contentious, but that’s what we’re about. We’re about getting stuff done on the things that matter. This matters, and we’re going to make sure that we deliver. Next, can I turn to ITV?
Prime Minister, you’ve made clear that stopping the boats is one of your biggest promises to voters, and you’re also telling us this legislation is the way to do it. So can I ask you, will next week’s vote be treated as a vote of competence in your government, and will you throw Conservative MPs out of the party if they defy you?
Rishi Sunak (23:29):
You don’t know, but what this vote is about is about confidence in Parliament to demonstrate that it gets the British people’s frustration. I get it. I’m acting on it.
So actually the real question when it comes to all these votes is for the Labour Party, because I want to get this legislation on the statute books as quickly as possible. That’s what we’re all about. We’ve moved at record pace since the judgment to get the treaty, to get the bill introduced. So the question now is the Labour Party, because we’ve got-
Rishi Sunak (23:57):
No, no, but we’ve got a plan. We’ve got a plan to pass this legislation and I want to pass it quickly, but I’m not hearing from anyone else that they’ve got a plan. So the real question, when it comes to Parliament question for all of you to ask is what are the Labour Party going to do about this vote? What are they going to do about this legislation? Because we’ve got a clear plan to stop the boats. Deterrence is a critical part of it. There is no way to stop people coming here unless you have a deterrent that means they will be sent somewhere else. It’s as simple as that. This is our deterrent and we are doing everything we can to get it on the statue books and get it up and running. So the question for votes in Parliament is what is the Labour Party’s plan and are they going to back this legislation?
Next, can we go to Sky?
Thank you. Prime Minister, do you see the reality of what is happening here? You’ve lost control of your party and this has become a confidence issue, not in Parliament, but in you. Do you accept that? And will you call an election if you lose these votes?
Rishi Sunak (24:57):
What’s happening here is we’re delivering on what I said. Let’s just look at the record, let’s just look at the facts. When I got this job, the number of small boat arrivals into this country had quadrupled in the past few years. That’s what happened. Since I’ve been here and because of all the things that we’ve done, we’ve got the numbers down by a third. That’s my record on this situation, where we’ve got the number of illegal enforcement raids up by 70%. We’ve arrested literally hundreds and hundreds of people in those raids, but also people who are coming illegally, who are facilitating this awful trade. We’ve closed down thousands of people’s bank accounts who shouldn’t have been here. We’re returning over 20,000 people.
That’s my record on this issue, those are the facts. And that’s because I get it. That’s because this is ridiculous what’s going on and we are doing something about it. Now I want to finish the job, and finishing the job means getting this legislation on the statute books and getting the scheme up and running. I’m determined to see that through because I think this is a top priority for the country. It’s a basic matter of fairness, and that’s what we’re about. We’re about delivering. I’m not interested in talking, I’m interested in doing things. The actions we’ve taken already have already made a difference, but we’ve got to finish the job and I’m going to see this thing through.
If you can’t, is it election [inaudible 00:26:11]-
Rishi Sunak (26:11):
I’m confident I can get this thing done. And same question as I said to Anushka on ITV. The question is for the Labour Party. We’re going to get this thing into Parliament. We’ve introduced it in record time. I want to get it on the statute books in record time. So the question is, not for me I’ve got a plan, it’s very clear what we’re about and what we’re trying to do, and we’re confident it’s going to work and my track record tells you that I can get things done. The question’s for everyone else.
And crucially, the Labour Party, what’s their plan? Are they going to vote for this legislation? Because if they really want to stop the boats, if they really get the values of the British people, then they should be fully backing this plan and they haven’t done that yet.
Next, can we go to Daily Mail?
Daily Mail (26:51):
Thanks, PM. Your immigration minister resigned last night, calling this legislation “a triumph of hope over experience.” I mean, he’s right, isn’t
Daily Mail (27:00):
… and he says you’re going to end up being yet another politician who makes promises on immigration that you can’t keep. I mean, he’s right. This isn’t going to work, is it?
Rishi Sunak (27:08):
No, he’s simply not right, actually. And Robert Generac in his letter himself outlined the remarkable progress that we’ve made in the last years. If we want to talk about experience and delivering on what you say, just look at the record. I’ll repeat it again. I know we’ve had it a few times, but it is bare repeating. The numbers of crossing’s down by a third. It doesn’t happen by accident because they’re up everywhere else in Europe. It happened because we’ve done a load of things, because I’ve focused on this issue. We’ve struck deals with people, we’ve cooperated, we’ve intercepted criminal gangs upstream. We’re returning people. We’re getting the backlog down. We’re closing hotels. We’re arresting people. We’re closing down bank accounts. We’re doing more to tackle this issue than anyone’s ever done. That’s the experience of the last year. That’s my record on delivering on what I say. And I am entirely confident that what we’re doing is the right approach.
I have spent weeks, if not months, the last few periods getting this right, working through it with multiple lawyers, making sure that we have something that is legally watertight, that is robust. This is the toughest legislation that has ever been passed on this issue. Let me just kind of go over it again. It deems Rwanda safe using a notwithstanding clause. We haven’t done that before. That means that no one can second guess parliament’s decision or any interpretation of international law. It makes clear that it’s our parliament that is sovereign. It disapplies relevant sections of the Human Rights Act. So we can stop people making spurious claims. And we’ve stopped people bringing judicial review on any of these grounds. We’ve stopped them claiming asylum. We’ve stopped them claiming modern slavery. We have blocked each and every avenue that anyone has ever used in the past to frustrate their removal. All of those avenues have been shut down.
So for the people who say you should do something different, the difference between them and me is an inch, given everything that we have closed. We’re talking about an inch. But that inch, by the way, is the difference between the Rwandans participating in this scheme and not. And as I said in my remarks, there’s no point having a piece of legislation, which means you can’t actually send anyone anywhere. It’s not going to help anyone. So when we’re talking about an inch of difference and that inch making the difference between having an operational scheme where you can send someone or not, it’s pretty clear that what we’re doing is not only the right approach, it’s the only approach. I’m determined to actually fix this problem, and the people who want to do something else clearly don’t because I’m confident this will work. There’s no point having a piece of legislation with no one to send anyone to at the end of it. So that’s what we’re getting on with. Next, The Sun.
Speaker 1 (29:48):
Prime Minister, if you don’t get a flight to Rwanda off the ground by the time you coordinate the next election, are the voters entitled to lose trust in you and put their faith elsewhere?
Rishi Sunak (30:00):
I think this is a conservative government that is absolutely getting things done, doing what we say we are going to do. We’ve stabilized the economy and we’ve cut taxes for people. We’ve introduced the biggest ever tax cut for businesses to get them investing. We’ve got immigration falling with a tough set of measures that we’ve just announced to go further. We’ve got boat crossings down by a third. We’ve also said that we would halve inflation, we’ve delivered on it, easing the cost of living. We said we would get debt down and grow the economy. We’re on track to do all those things too. So ultimately, look, it’s the British people who get to decide whether what we’ve said and what we’ve done have worked. I’m very confident in the record that we’ve put together over the last year, and I’m confident that the British people will see that because it’s making a real difference in their lives. I take one last one. Chris, yes.
Chris Hope (30:49):
Chris Hope, GB News. GB News has been in Calais, Prime Minister, when migrants have told us that they are laughing at the UK and it’s random policy. Are they right to laugh? Is your policy a joke and your government a laughing stock on this matter? And can I quickly ask a second one? There’s reports today in the Council Commons that UK pulled into a hacked by Russia, FSB. Were you hacked by the FSB?
Rishi Sunak (31:12):
No, look, so on the second one, there are a range of protections that both parliamentarians and ministers have and advice that they follow and they get support from the National Cyber Center and all those things, and I’m pretty confident in the protections that I have. On your first question, look at the results. So you’ve been over in Calais, you’ve been over in France. Well, the number of people crossing from France to the UK this year is down by a third. That’s the simple truth. We’ve arrested hundreds of people who have helped facilitate those crossings this year. Many of them have already been charged and they’re going to end up going to jail. People that have come illegally are having their bank accounts closed. 22,000 of them have been returned. And by the way, in the rest of Europe, none of that is happening because the numbers are up. They’re up by 80% in the Mediterranean.
So actually what we’re doing is making a difference. We’re disrupting criminal gangs upstream before they get anywhere near Calais in the first place. We’re working more closely with the French. For the first time, we have British officers embedded in their patrols. Why? Because I went and struck a good arrangement with the French, not for reasons of sentimentality, because it’s in the British national interests to have that cooperation on those beaches, to stop people coming and that cooperation is working. You would’ve seen pictures of some of the barriers that were being put in rivers on the way up to the beaches. That’s come as a result of that cooperation. It stops people getting there in the first place, and the proof is in the pudding. I’m not about talking, I’m about action. The numbers of people crossing from exactly where you were to the UK are down by a third.
They quadrupled in the last few years and they’re up everywhere else. So that should tell you, tell me and tell the country that what we’re doing is working. It is making a difference, but we’ve got to finish the job. That’s why this legislation is so important. That’s why we’ve worked so hard on it. I’m absolutely confident that it’s the right approach. It’s the toughest ever approach. It will close down all the avenues that people have used in the past, and crucially, as I said, it is the only approach because going any further, that difference is an inch. But going any further would mean 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.
So what everyone should do is support this bill, crucially, the Labor Party. The question for them is, are they going to support this legislation because we want to get it up and running as quickly as possible so we can finish the job, have a deterrent, and stop the boats. That’s what I’m committed to doing. That’s what the team is committed to doing, and we’re going to make sure that we see it through. Thank you very much.