Rishi Sunak has been warned by senior Conservatives that he would face a significant rebellion and certain defeat in the House of Commons if he tried to take Britain out of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Sunak is drawing up legislation designed to stem the flow of migrants across the English Channel on small boats that officials admit would take Britain to “the boundaries” of international law.

“The prime minister wants to introduce legislation that meets our international obligations but he also recognises that the law as it stands is not working,” said one government insider. “We are pushing the boundaries of what is legally possible, while staying within the ECHR.”

However, the Sunday Times cited officials saying Sunak might even consider leaving the ECHR if the British law were challenged in the Strasbourg human rights court and that membership was no longer in “the UK’s long-term interests”.

But in seeking to appease the right of the Tory party on small boats, Sunak risks prompting a rebellion on his left flank, adding to the problems he is facing in enacting his agenda.

Sir Robert Neill, Tory chair of the Commons justice committee, told the FT: “If Conservatives don’t believe in the rule of law, what do we believe in? Are we going to put ourselves in the same company as Russia and Belarus?”

Russia and Belarus are not members of the Council of Europe ⁠ — a body set up after the second world war with the enthusiastic support of Sir Winston Churchill. It is separate from the EU and the ECHR protects the human rights of people in member countries.

Neill said: “It’s not a virtue to push the law to the limits. Adherence to and membership of the ECHR is a red line for many Conservatives. It would be unbelievable for a Conservative government to leave it.”

Sir Robert Buckland, former justice secretary, said: “It would be an undesirable state of affairs if the UK was to follow Russia out of the Council of Europe.”

Buckland said that Sunak should avoid any legislation that ends up being bogged down in the courts and warned that any attempt to leave the ECHR would be blocked by parliament.

“I don’t think there would be a majority for it,” he said. Neill agreed that Sunak would never be able to get such a policy through the House of Commons.

Stopping the “small boats” is one of Sunak’s five pledges for 2023 and is a big issue for many Tory MPs, particularly those on the right of the party. Some 45,000 people arrived in England last year after crossing the Channel, the largest number on record, and more still are expected this year.

“Tackling illegal migration remains a top priority for the Prime Minister, and as he has set out, we are committed to stopping the arrival of small boats,” a government official said.

“Solving this problem will not be quick or easy, but it is the right thing to do ⁠ — which is why we will stop the exploitation of our system and break the business model of people smugglers putting lives at risk for profit.”

Government officials have indicated that the new legislation would allow for authorities to detain and deport anyone arriving in the UK by what it considers illegal means, and strip them of the right to claim asylum.

The hope is that together with plans to deport asylum seekers arriving by boat to Rwanda, this will act as a deterrent.

However, the government’s agreement with Rwanda has been stalled by legal challenges, and the new immigration legislation would also be hit by further court challenges, immigration lawyers and refugees rights groups said.

If the legislation is too draconian, Sunak could also face a rebellion from mainstream Tory MPs, adding to his political problems.

The Tory right ⁠ — including former premier Liz Truss ⁠ — are mobilising to try to push Sunak to deliver early tax cuts, while Eurosceptic Tory MPs are likely to react angrily to any concessions to Brussels agreed by the prime minister as he tries to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol issue.

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