Ignoring international rules on Rwanda could delay flights, PM reportedly told

Rishi Sunak will chair Cabinet on Tuesday after reportedly being warned that attempting to opt out of international rights treaties could delay his Rwanda plan.

The aim of sending asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda forms a key plank of the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop boats of migrants from crossing the English Channel.

But a ruling by the Supreme Court that the proposal is unlawful has seen the UK Government look at measures to satisfy judges’ concerns.

Mr Sunak has been urged, including by sacked home secretary Suella Braverman, to adopt tough legislation that includes “notwithstanding” clauses that can prevent judges from applying protections in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to asylum cases.

Suella Braverman
Former home Secretary Suella Braverman has been critical of the Prime Minister’s handling of the migrant crisis (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Times reported that the Government has received advice from its lawyers that says instructing the courts to ignore the ECHR risks opening up more avenues for migrants to challenge the legality of deportation flights, on the basis that it would breach Britain’s convention obligations.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous Government source as saying: “If we take the Supreme Court’s ruling at face value and play a straight bat, that will be the quickest way of getting flights off the ground, instead of starting a big fight that may invite more challenges.”

No 10 has previously appeared to accept that looking to circumvent international human rights treaties would take longer than other measures at ministers’ disposal.

The Prime Minister has set the target of having migrant flights take off by spring.

Mr Sunak’s plan to save the policy involves the signing of a new treaty with Kigali, which has already been paid £140 million for the asylum scheme, and the introduction of emergency legislation allowing Parliament to deem the east African country “safe”.

The legal advice from Government lawyers is said to have been discussed at a meeting on Saturday between the Prime Minister, Home Secretary James Cleverly, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk and Attorney General Victoria Prentis.

PA news agency understands the purpose of the meeting was to run through multiple options for the emergency legislation that Downing Street has promised in a bid to break the legal logjam preventing deportation flights from taking off.

James Cleverly
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he would not ‘prejudge’ what would be in the emergency Rwanda legislation (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Cleverly has stoked right-wing Tory ire after suggesting in a newspaper interview that the plan to deport asylum seekers to Kigali was not the “be all and end all” of the Government’s immigration approach following the Supreme Court judgment.

In his first Home Office questions as Home Secretary on Monday, he said he would not “prejudge” the content of the Government’s emergency legislation.

Energy minister Andrew Bowie said he would “not speculate” when asked if the legislation would be published before the end of the year.

He told LBC: “All I know is that between the Home Office and 10 Downing Street, they are working very hard to ensure that this legislation, when it does appear, delivers what the Prime Minister says it will, which is to help deliver the Rwanda scheme.”

Separately, Mr Sunak was involved in a diplomatic spat with the Greek prime minister after it was claimed the Prime Minister cancelled a meeting between the pair at the 11th hour.

The row comes after Greek leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had used an interview ahead of the anticipated talks on Tuesday to push for the return of the Elgin Marbles, saying the current situation was like the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.

A source on the Greek side said Mr Mitsotakis and his team had been left “baffled” after the talks were ditched given preventing migrant sea crossings — one of Mr Sunak’s top five priorities as part of his stop the boats pledge — was high on the agenda.

Downing Street would not say whether the meeting had been cancelled as a result of the Greek premier’s marbles comments, but said an offer of a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden had been made instead.