RISHI Sunak has said controlling immigration is more important than “membership of a foreign court” in his strongest hint yet that he could back leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

In an interview on Wednesday, Sunak defended his approach to tackling small boats crossing the Channel, but indicated he would be willing to leave the ECHR if it blocked his Rwanda policy.

The Prime Minister told The Sun’s Never Mind The Ballots programme: “I believe that all plans are compliant with all of our international obligations including the ECHR, but I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court because it’s fundamental to our sovereignty as a country.”

Right-wing Conservative MPs, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, have previously pushed for the UK to leave the ECHR, fearing its provisions could prevent asylum seekers being deported to Rwanda.

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The Prime Minister has previously resisted such calls, but said he would be willing to defy orders from the European Court of Human Rights if necessary to implement his Rwanda plan.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill currently making its way through Parliament includes provisions that would allow ministers to ignore such orders.

But members of the more moderate One Nation Group of Tory MPs have warned against leaving the convention, while others have said such a move would breach the Good Friday Agreement which includes a requirement to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Irish law.

In his interview on Wednesday, Sunak insisted that the Government had “plans in place” to implement the Rwanda policy as soon as the Bill was able to overcome opposition in the House of Lords, denying reports that there was no airline willing to take asylum seekers to the Central African nation.

The National: Former home secretary Suella Braverman previously backed calls for the UK to leave the ECHRFormer home secretary Suella Braverman previously backed calls for the UK to leave the ECHR

He also defended his broader approach to small boats, saying he had done “more than any other prime minister in history” to tackle the problem.

After a fall in crossings last year, more than 5000 people made the journey in the first three months of this year, exceeding the previous record set in 2022.

Sunak said: “Progress is still being made. What are we doing with Albania? They accounted for a third of the arrivals we had the year before last.

“I negotiated a new deal with Albania. Obviously it’s a safe country. If somebody comes here illegally we’ll be able to return them back.

“We’ve then returned thousands of people back to Albania and what happened? They stopped coming. Now we need to replicate that.”

The SNP MP Stewart McDonald said leaving the ECHR would put the UK in dangerous company. 

He said on X/Twitter: "Joining Russia and Belarus. Dangerous."