Sunak seeks to revive Rwanda plan after Supreme Court defeat

Rishi Sunak suggested a new law could designate Rwanda as a safe country (Leon Neal/PA)
Rishi Sunak suggested a new law could designate Rwanda as a safe country (Leon Neal/PA) Rishi Sunak suggested a new law could designate Rwanda as a safe country (Leon Neal/PA)

Rishi Sunak will seek to revive his plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda with emergency legislation, after Supreme Court ruled the landmark plan unlawful in a major blow to the Government.

Ministers sought to play down the scale of the court defeat, as the Prime Minister pledged that he would “not allow a foreign court to block these flights” amid pressure from the Tory right to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

While he resisted calls to exit the international treaty, he did promise to end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges with a law to deem the east African nation a safe country.

It comes after the UK’s highest court rejected the Government’s appeal over its policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda if they arrive by unauthorised means.

The five senior justices unanimously ruled that the plans are unlawful because there is a risk that genuine asylum seekers could be forced back to their country of origin by Kigali.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed ruled there would be a risk of Rwanda returning genuine asylum seekers to face “ill treatment” in the country they had fled.

The decision came as a serious setback to the Prime Minister’s pledge to “stop the boats”, but he and other ministers insisted that flights could begin by spring next year and crucially before a general election.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News that “must” happen.

“That’s what the public wants.”

The Supreme Court ruling came after a week that had already seen the Tory right angered by the sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and a reshuffle that tilted his administration back towards the centre ground.

Mrs Braverman on Wednesday was quick to demand that Mr Sunak introduces laws to block off the ECHR, Human Rights Act and other routes of legal challenge, echoing calls from other right-wing backbenchers.

The Prime Minister, in a Downing Street press conference, set out plans to broker a new treaty with Kigali that will provide a legal guarantee that asylum seekers will not be removed from Rwanda.

“But we need to end the merry-go-round,” he told a Downing Street press conference. “So I’m also announcing today that we will take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation.

“This will enable Parliament to confirm that with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe.”

He said it will also “make clear that we will bring back anyone if ordered to do so by a court”, meaning migrants sent to Kigali could then be brought back to the UK.

Home Office officials have been unable to say what will happen to the asylum seekers who remained in Rwanda after their claims were rejected, if they would not be removed.

Britain is expected to pay Rwanda more money for the new treaty, having already handed over £140 million under the plans that have seen not one asylum seeker removed since it was announced in April 2020.

Suella Braverman sacking
Suella Braverman sacking Sacked home secretary Suella Braverman demanded that Mr Sunak introduce laws to block off the ECHR (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mr Sunak’s plan did echo the demand of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who argued that the “only one way to end the legal blockade on Rwanda” was for a law to designate Rwanda a “safe” country.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper accused Mr Sunak of “making more promises and chasing more headlines”.

The shadow home secretary said: “Rishi Sunak just keeps making more promises and chasing more headlines on boats, without ever delivering on the commitments he’s made already.

“Conservative ministers knew what the problems were with the Rwanda scheme 18 months ago – if they thought this was the answer, why didn’t they do it long ago?