James Cleverly is travelling to Kigali to sign a new treaty with Rwanda, as Rishi Sunak responds to the UK supreme court’s ruling against the policy to send people there.
Domestic legislation is also planned so parliament could assert Rwanda is a safe destination for asylum seekers who arrive in Britain.
Cleverly said Rwanda “cares deeply about the rights of refugees” and that he looked forward to meeting counterparts and signing the deal. “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives,” he said.
Cleverly will meet his counterpart, Vincent Biruta, to sign the treaty and discuss key next steps on the migration and economic development partnership, the Home Office said. He will also visit the genocide memorial in Kigali and staff at the British High Commission during his trip.
Earlier, it was revealed British lawyers could be sent to Rwanda as part of a new treaty aimed at implementing Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to the African nation.
Cabinet minister Lucy Frazer said the Home Office was looking “very carefully” at the idea of sending UK government lawyers to Rwanda to address concerns about the legal system.
She told BBC Breakfast: “There is an issue about processing and I know that the Home Office are looking at that very carefully.
“I know that the home secretary, James Cleverly, is now working with Rwanda on a new treaty, and we will be bringing forward legislation in due course.”
The development comes amid growing belief among lawyers and charities that a plane with asylum seekers will not take off for Rwanda before the next general election, which is expected in 2024. Labour plans to ditch the policy if it wins.
Nick Emmerson, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents solicitors, criticised the idea of sending British lawyers to Rwanda.
He said: “The suggestion of stationing British lawyers in Rwanda implies a lack of confidence in how cases would be handled there, once again demonstrating the enormous difficulties with the scheme.
“The government needs to admit the scheme is likely beyond repair and switch attention to clearing the asylum backlog and tackling the severe lack of capacity in the sector to provide the asylum and immigration advice needed.”
Toufique Hossain, from Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: “It’s difficult to see how British lawyers simply by their presence can somehow magically make the stark findings of the supreme court go away.
“Especially when the court accepted the evidence of the UNHCR [UN refugee agency] stating that the defects in Rwanda’s procedures and institutions for processing asylum claims are serious and systematic.”
After the supreme court judgment on 15 November, ministers said they had been working on contingency measures and promised a treaty with Rwanda within days along with emergency legislation in parliament – but neither has yet emerged.
There have been reports that Rwanda is pushing for more money on top of the £140m already committed to the scheme.
The Sunday Times reported that Kigali is to be given a £15m top-up payment to accept fresh terms on its agreement with the UK to take migrants who arrive in Britain via small boats.
A source close to the home secretary said: “The Rwandans have not asked for extra money in order to sign a treaty, nor has money to secure a treaty been offered.”
Dame Diana Johnson, the chair of the home affairs select committee, said the government had “total disregard” for parliament’s rights to scrutinise the key immigration policy after a senior civil servant said any extra costs on top of the £140m already paid to Rwanda would not be disclosed until the summer.
Civil servants have not been able to say how much has been spent on preparations for the deal, staffing costs, or legal costs fighting numerous court cases.
Refugee charities have said they cannot see how the legislation would prevent legal challenges. They say the supreme court judgment was comprehensive and damning of the Rwandan government’s asylum system, and that legislation cannot take away the right of an individual to launch a legal challenge.
One senior official working on plans to prevent the courts hearing future legal challenges against the Rwanda policy told the Times that plans for new legislation were a “political gimmick”. They added: “The government can’t legislate its way out of the supreme court judgment.”
Dominic Cummings, who was Boris Johnson’s adviser when the plan was drawn up in 2020, wrote this weekend that the original plan to send people to a third country was never supposed to actually happen.
“The whole point of Rwanda was an alternative to facing the reality of the problems,” Cummings said on X.
“But because Tory-SW1 world is so insane, Boris [Johnson]’s trick to divert them has actually worked far better than he planned and has taken on a life of its own, with even the new PM treating it as if it were an actual plan.”