As the Prime Minister visits the Council of Europe in Iceland before heading to Japan for the G7, he is still trying to reassure his backers of attempts to change the European migration system.
By Ali Fortescue, political correspondent @AliFortescue
Tuesday 16 May 2023 22:45 UK
Rishi Sunak’s big week on the world stage has begun.
On Tuesday he was in Reykjavik for the Council of Europe – on Wednesday he flies to Hiroshima for the G7 summit.
It has already been a whirlwind of handshakes, diplomatic rituals and high-level mingling.
There is a chance for that prime minister looking statesmanlike – relaxed among world leaders: but will cozying up to European allies help him as he grapples with his party’s right on Brexit and immigration?
We are in what may be the most difficult period of Mr Sunak’s premiership yet.
He has been weakened by a terrible set local election resultsand faces pressure over the speed at which EU legislation will be rolled back on post-Brexitand how far he will go tighten UK immigration laws.
How much of a threat do the rebel Tory conferences pose to Sunak?
Yesterday Suella Bravermann, his minister of the interior, took the stagein what some saw as a future leadership and blatant undermining of the prime minister, to give a speech on immigration at the National Conservative conference.
While the focus of this Council of Europe summit, only the fourth since the group was created after World War II, is on Ukraine – immigration is what Rishi Sunak will talk about.
He has used this opportunity to send a message home that he can be tough on immigration with Europe.
Addressing the council, he said: “The moral case for action is clear: we cannot just sit back and watch criminal gangs profit from people’s misery.”
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earlier, Sunak met with the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and called for reform to limit the powers of European judges to interfere in domestic politics.
His message will certainly resonate with the Conservatives, who have been critical of the ECtHR for allowing a migrant flight to be grounded at the last minute due to a migrant flight bound for Rwanda.
However, it is not clear that there is any appetite for change in Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron told me he “wants to understand” what reform Rishi Sunak is proposing, but said the Council of Europe’s “principles must be respected”.
Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, accused Britain of trying to “pick and choose”. He said: “The relationship with Britain has never been the easiest.”
Any commitment from European leaders today seems far-fetched, but Rishi Sunak’s rhetoric is for domestic consumption.
The Prime Minister may have wanted to talk about immigration, but the star attraction of this summit was a video appearance from President Zelenskyy.
The hall fell silent as if fresh from his surprise visit to Checkersthe Ukrainian president issued another rallying cry for continued support from European leaders.