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Rwanda says it would have quit deportation deal if UK ditched human rights laws

Vincent Biruta, the Rwandan foreign minister
Vincent Biruta, the Rwandan foreign minister - Anadolu

The Rwandan government has suggested it would have pulled out of its deportation deal with the UK if Britain had opted out of international human rights laws.

Vincent Biruta, the country’s foreign minister, said in a statement that Rwanda would not have been able to continue with the £140 million partnership to take asylum seekers deported from Britain “without lawful behaviour by the UK”.

It came within two hours of the publication of the Rwanda Bill, which has been criticised by Right-wing MPs as it fails to give the Government powers to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the area of asylum without leaving the treaty.

The Bill, which will be laid before Parliament on Thursday, compels judges to treat the central African nation as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation gives ministers powers to disapply sections of the Human Rights Act in asylum claims, forcing a claimant to take their case to Strasbourg.

But it does not go as far as providing powers to dismiss the ECHR, as hardline MPs, including Suella Braverman, had demanded.

They have argued it is critical to the legislation achieving its objective of getting the Rwanda deportation flights off the ground by blocking off all routes of legal challenge.

Mr Biruta said: “It has always been important to both Rwanda and the UK that our rule of law partnership meets the highest standards of international law, and it places obligations on both the UK and Rwanda to act lawfully.

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

‘Desperate spin’

The move, however, sparked criticism from Right-wing MPs who claimed it was an attempt to shore up support for the legislation which excludes “systemic” challenges from international human rights laws and agreements such as the Refugee Convention.

A senior Tory source said: “This is desperate spin from Downing Street. The Rwandan Government would obviously be content for the UK to disapply at the individual level the same laws it has already said it will disapply at the systemic level through this Bill.

“Rwanda has been a very flexible and rock solid partner. It is in their interest to have legislation that actually works, so that the partnership can be made operational. They don’t want to see it held up in the courts indefinitely or have it fail to work in practice as this new Bill will guarantee.”

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, admitted on the face of the Bill that he could not state that the legislation was compliant with Britain’s obligations under the ECHR.

Mrs Braverman was forced to say the same over the stop the boats legislation last summer because of legal advice that there is a risk that it could be challenged in the courts, even though ministers believe it does comply.

The Home Office said the new Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill would conclusively deem Rwanda a safe country, notwithstanding UK and international law, and would end the “merry-go-round of illegal migration delay tactics.”

It effectively blocks any “systemic” legal challenge that Rwanda is unsafe under the human rights act, ECHR or international agreements including the Refugee Convention of 1951.

The Bill also disapplies sections of the UK’s Human Rights Act, forcing a claimant to take their claim to Strasbourg.

It reaffirms the power granted in the Illegal Migration Act earlier this year for ministers to ignore interim injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This measure — known as a Rule 39 order — was used to ground the first scheduled deportation flight to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, in June 2022.

‘Fatally flawed’

However, the Bill does allow individual asylum seekers to challenge their deportation to Rwanda if there is “compelling evidence” that they faced a “real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm.” This is in line with the same rights as in the Illegal Migration Act.

Right-wing MPs warned that this could bog the policy down in the courts.

A source close to Mrs Braverman said: “The Prime Minister has kept the ability for every single illegal migrant to make individual human rights claims against their removal and to then appeal those claims if they don’t succeed at first.

“It is fatally flawed. It will be bogged down in the courts for months and months. And it won’t stop the boats. It is a further betrayal of Tory voters and the decent patriotic majority who want to see this insanity brought to an end.”

However, the centre-Left One Nation group of MPs welcomed the Government’s decision to “continue to meet the UK’s international commitments which uphold the rule of law.”

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said the legislation will ensure his flagship asylum scheme “cannot be stopped” and will deliver on his pledge to “stop the boats”.

He said: “It is costing us billions of pounds and costing innocent lives, and that is why we are taking action to put a stop to it and make clear once and for all that it is Parliament that should decide who comes to this country, not criminal gangs.”