UK

Emergency Rwanda legislation will be ‘legally watertight,’ minister says

Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan minister of foreign affairs Vincent Biruta sign the new treaty (PA)
Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan minister of foreign affairs Vincent Biruta sign the new treaty (PA) Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan minister of foreign affairs Vincent Biruta sign the new treaty (PA)

Emergency legislation aimed at saving Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan will do “whatever it takes” to protect the deal from further setbacks in the courts, a Home Office minister has insisted amid pressure from Tory MPs.

Chris Philp said the Bill, which he suggested would be published in a matter of days, will ensure the UK’s partnership with Kigali is “legally watertight.”

The legislation is designed to enable Parliament to deem Rwanda a safe destination and address the concerns that saw the Supreme Court rule Mr Sunak’s flagship asylum policy unlawful.

But its likely contents have already divided Tory MPs, with fears that too radical an approach could prompt ministerial resignations.

Centrist MPs have pushed the Prime Minister to respect the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other international obligations but right-wingers want him to take a hardline stance to get flights off the ground as soon as possible.

Speaking to Times Radio on Wednesday, Mr Philp said: “What I do know is that this Bill will do whatever it takes to make the Rwanda scheme legally watertight… and doesn’t get unpicked by the courts.”

The policing minister also defended the scheme against criticism over the £140 million cost to the UK taxpayer which is likely to rise, arguing it will end up “far lower” than the cost of housing asylum seekers in Britain.

He conceded the deal with Kigali includes an agreement for the UK to accept a “very small” number of refugees from Rwanda but was unable to specify how many.

According to The Times, Mr Sunak has rejected calls for the UK to opt out of or exclude the ECHR in asylum cases but may be considering disapplying parts of the Human Rights Act – which gives domestic legal effect to the ECHR – to prevent court challenges to deportation flights.

Members of the right-wing European Research Group (ERG), as well as MPs from the Common Sense and New Conservative groupings, met in Parliament on Tuesday hours after Home Secretary James Cleverly celebrated signing a new treaty with Kigali.

The group’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers is set to scrutinise the legislation before MPs vote on it, as ERG chairman Mark Francois warned that MPs would not be “bounced” into backing the legislation without the time to assess it.

But Tory MPs from the One Nation faction have urged ministers to ensure the country follows rule of law rather than trying to undermine the oversight of the Strasbourg court.

Former cabinet minister Damian Green said he did not want to see tinkering with UK obligations under the ECHR or the Refugee Convention but to “get on with” the Rwanda plan.

He warned that it would be the “wrong thing for this country to do, bad for our international reputation” while also making it “pretty much impossible” for any Bill to make it through the House of Lords.

Damian Green
Damian Green Damian Green said he did not want to see tinkering with UK obligations under the ECHR (Yui Mok/PA)

The UK’s top court last month blocked the Rwanda policy over concerns that genuine refugees could be wrongly sent back to their countries of origin where they would face persecution.

In an attempt to rectify this, the new treaty means British and Commonwealth judges will preside over a newly established appeals process within Rwanda’s high court for exceptional cases.

Another key measure is a commitment that no-one will be removed by Rwanda to any other country except the UK.

Experts from the UK will also be seconded to Rwanda to assist with the processing of asylum decisions.

People sent to Rwanda will have free legal assistance funded by the taxpayer throughout the process.

Mr Cleverly said no new money was directly connected to the document after disputed reports of a £15 million top-up payment but did not rule out additional costs in the future.

After signing the deal with Mr Cleverly, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta expressed his frustration at the judgment by some of the UK’s top justices.

He suggested “internal UK politics” may have played a role and said his country has been “unfairly treated” by the courts, international organisations and the media.