Sunak promises emergency legislation to prevent Rwanda ‘toy’

Rishi Sunak has promised emergency legislation and a new treaty with Rwanda to ensure his landmark asylum policy is not blocked again after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal.

The Prime Minister said he would end the “little game” of legal challenges to a law that would make the East African nation a safe country after his plans to “stop the boats” were blocked.

He was resisting pressure from the Tory right to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) but vowed: “I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.”

The UK's highest court has rejected the government's appeal over its policy to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda if they arrive by unauthorized means.

The five senior judges unanimously ruled that the plans are illegal because there is a risk that genuine asylum seekers will be forced back to their country of origin from Kigali.

Sacked Home Secretary Suella Braverman called on Mr Sunak to introduce laws to block the ECHR, the Human Rights Act and other avenues of legal challenge.

Mr Sunak pinned his hopes first on brokering a new treaty with Kigali that would provide a legal guarantee that asylum seekers would not be removed from Rwanda.

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

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

He also said he would “make it clear 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.

But Mr Sunak repeatedly refused to say whether the first evacuation flight to Kigali would take off before the next general election, saying only that he was targeting “the spring”.

The prime minister said he would be “prepared to do whatever is necessary” if the courts intervened “against the expressed wishes” of MPs.

He warned of challenges at the European Court of Human Rights but said he was ready to “reexamine these international relations to remove the obstacles in our way”.

“So let me tell everyone now, I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights,” he said.

Home Office officials were unable to say what would happen to asylum seekers who remained in Rwanda after their applications were rejected if they were not removed.

Britain is expected to pay Rwanda more money for the new treaty, having already handed over £140m under the plans which have not seen a single asylum seeker turned away since it was announced in April 2020.

The Prime Minister kept the threat surrounding the ECHR on the table as Ms Braverman waited in the wings to challenge his authority after the sacking.

He said Mr Sunak should change the law to prevent legal challenges, arguing there was “no chance of curbing illegal immigration within the current legal framework”.

“We must legislate or concede defeat,” he wrote on social media, before an ally made it clear he believed Mr Sunak's emergency plans were “more magic tricks” that would end up back in court.

Mr Sunak's plan echoed a call from former prime minister Boris Johnson, who argued that “the only way to end the legal blockade on Rwanda” was a law to designate Rwanda as a “safe” country.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer apologized to the nation from Mr Sunak for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash on the “ridiculous, pathetic spectacle”.

The president of the High Court, Lord Reid, ruled that there would be a risk that Rwanda would return genuine asylum seekers to face “ill-treatment” in the country they had fled.

He made it clear in his summary of the judgment that the ECHR was not the only international treaty relevant to the court's decision, which also took into account domestic law.

In the Commons, new Home Secretary James Cleverley said ministers had been working with Rwanda in recent months to “provide the certainty that the court requires”.

However, he said he did not believe the violation of the ECHR or the Refugee Convention was “necessary”.

Mr Sunak told Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a call that he remains firmly committed to their cooperation on asylum.

Lord Reid agreed with the Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year that there were “substantial” reasons to believe there was a “real risk” of Rwandan refugees being returned to their countries of origin.

But he made clear the judgment was based only on the current failure to “eliminate the risk” there and said changes needed to reduce it “may be made in the future”.

The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for humanity. Today's crisis should bring to an end this shameful mark on the history of the United Kingdom

Steve Smith, Care4Calais

The High Court ruling made clear the scale of the challenges ministers must overcome, citing “evidence of a culture in Rwanda of, at best, a poor understanding of Rwanda's obligations under the Refugee Convention”.

Campaigners welcomed the verdict, with the charity Freedom From Torture hailing it as “a victory for reason and compassion”.

Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said: “The High Court decision is a victory for humanity.

“Today's crisis should bring to an end this shameful mark on the history of the United Kingdom.”

The legal rulings were based on evidence that Kigali had a “poor human rights record”, citing British police who warned Rwandans in the UK of credible plans by the nation's government to kill them.

Concerns were also raised about political and media freedom, as well as the ability of Rwandan courts to act independently of the government.

Data from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, reported a 100% rejection rate of Rwandan claims from countries in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

This was despite the fact that the UK authorities often considered the allegations to be ‘substantiated'.

The body also presented evidence of more than 100 cases of “refoulement” – the process of returning refugees to their countries of origin – which had taken place since the UK agreed to its deal with Rwanda.