Rishi Sunak is facing turmoil in Tory ranks over a High Court ruling that the government's Rwanda plan is illegal, with supporters warning his future could be determined by his response to the setback.
The group of New Conservative MPs said the decision was “existential” for the party, while deputy leader Lee Anderson said ministers should “ignore the law” and start sending asylum seekers to the east African nation.
Campaigners on the Tory right are now calling for a drastic overhaul of the UK's rights and treaties framework, potentially going beyond their previous proposal to bypass the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Other measures to repeal treaties, such as the Refugee Convention, should now be considered if necessary given the scope of the ruling, the New Conservatives argued.
Speaking after a group meeting with other Tory MPs on Wednesday, co-chairman Danny Kruger said: “The Government should immediately announce its intention to do whatever is necessary to insist on our sovereignty.
“This means legislation that will override the outcome of the European Court of Justice, the ECHR itself and other conventions, including the Refugee Convention, if necessary.”
Co-chair Miriam Cates did not say whether she retained full confidence in the prime minister when asked by reporters.
“He said he would do whatever it takes to stop the boats. The next few days will show whether we have the legislative power and the political will to do this.
Ms Cates added: “We will support him to do whatever it takes.”
Tory deputy leader Mr Anderson said the government should “ignore the law” and send migrants back the same day they arrive in the UK.
He described the High Court ruling as a “black day for the British people” and said ministers should “just get the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda”.
“I think the British people have been very patient, I have been very patient and now they are demanding action. And that forced us a bit now,” he said.
“My view is to get the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda and show strength.
“It's time the government showed real leadership and sent them back, on the same day. I think we should ignore the law and send them right back the same day.”
Jonathan Gullis, a member of the New Conservative group, said there were a number of options the government could consider, including physically pushing small boats back into French waters in the English Channel.
“Obviously disappointing today's decision for the government, but critical we need to ensure a plan B is put in place quickly in order to maintain the confidence of voters and ensure we deliver on this commitment to stop the boats.” he said.
“Something that he, Danny Kruger and Bill Cash pushed in front of which was an amendment that didn't exist, might bring it as an illegal bill to repeal all the conventions and treaties that we've signed up to, which were clearly in the way of the decision of the Supreme Court to be able to enact such policies.”
He said another option would be to “literally push the boats back into French territorial waters … or if not, to take more direct action and start returning people to French shores rather than bringing them back to British shores, regardless of any conflict we may end up with the French government.”
Meanwhile, Brendan Clarke-Smith, another Tory MP from 2019, posted a photo on X, formerly Twitter, of a 2016 Daily Mail headline suggesting judges were “enemies of the people” over a ruling on Brexit.
“We are here in the past,” he wrote.
He later insisted he had not attacked the High Court judges, but referred to the “democratic choices” of the British people, adding: “As we did then with Brexit, we resolved the problem in Parliament and I intend to do that. it's happening again.”
Former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said the government's response to the legal setback would be “a matter of trust” in Mr Sunak's judgment as prime minister.
He suggested that “at the very least” emergency legislation should be introduced to assert Parliament's sovereignty.
In the Commons, Home Secretary James Cleverly resisted calls to leave the ECHR and the international Refugee Convention, telling Tory MPs: “I don't think these things are necessary.”
He added that “national governments cannot simply vote themselves out of international commitments” and as a former foreign secretary he knew they were “incredibly powerful tools as we try to do good around the world”.
Mr Sunak's strategy is to seek a new treaty with Rwanda that addresses the High Court's concerns.
But the Prime Minister said that “if it becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions continue to frustrate plans at that point, I am prepared to change our laws and review those international relations.”