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Sunak promises emergency legislation to prevent Rwanda ‘merry-go-round’

Sunak promises emergency legislation to prevent Rwanda ‘merry-go-round’

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

The Prime Minister said he will end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges with a law to deem 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 pull the UK out of 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 rejected the Government’s appeal over its policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda if they arrive by unauthorised means.

The five senior justices unanimously ruled that the plans are unlawful because there is a risk genuine asylum seekers could be forced back to their country of origin by Kigali.

Sacked home secretary Suella Braverman demanded that Mr Sunak introduces laws to block off the ECHR, Human Rights Act and other routes of legal challenge.

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

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

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

He said it will also “make clear that 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.

Mr Sunak repeatedly refused to say whether the first removal flight to Kigali would take off before the next general election, only saying he was aiming for “the spring”.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, appearing on Sky News, later gave a firmer pledge.

Asked if flights would happen before the next election, he said: “Yes, we must do, that’s what the public wants.”

The Prime Minister said he would be “prepared to do what is necessary” if the courts intervened “against the expressed wishes” of MPs.

He warned of challenges in the European Court of Human Rights, but said he was prepared to “revisit those international relationships to remove the obstacles in our way”.

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

Home Office officials have been unable to say what will happen to the asylum seekers who remained in Rwanda after their claims were rejected, if they would not be removed.

Lord Reed
The Supreme Court’s judgment was delivered by its president Lord Reed (PA)

Britain is expected to pay Rwanda more money for the new treaty, having already handed over £140 million under the plans that have seen not one asylum seeker removed since it was announced in April 2020.

The Prime Minister was keeping the threat surrounding the ECHR on the table as Mrs Braverman was waiting in the wings to challenge his authority after being sacked.

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

“We must legislate or admit defeat,” she wrote on social media, before an ally made clear she believes Mr Sunak’s emergency plans are “more magic tricks” that will end up back in the courts.

Suella Braverman sacking
Sacked home secretary Suella Braverman demanded that Mr Sunak introduce laws to block off the ECHR (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mr Sunak’s plan did echo the demand of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who argued that the “only one way to end the legal blockade on Rwanda” was for a law to designate Rwanda a “safe” country.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an apology to the nation from Mr Sunak for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on the “ridiculous, pathetic spectacle”.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed ruled there would be a risk of Rwanda returning 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.

Boris Johnson
Mr Sunak’s plan echoes the demand of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who urged a change in the law (Yui Mok/PA)

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

But he said that he did not believe disregarding the ECHR or the Refugee Convention was “necessary”.

Mr Sunak told Rwandan president Paul Kagame in a call that he remained firmly committed to their asylum partnership.

Lord Reed agreed with the Court of Appeal decision earlier this year that there were “substantial” grounds to believe there was a “real risk” of refugees being returned by Rwanda to their home countries.

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

The Supreme Court’s ruling made clear the scale of the challenges ministers must overcome, citing “evidence of a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda’s obligations under the Refugee Convention”.

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

Steve Smith, chief executive of the Care4Calais refugee charity, said: “The Supreme Court’s judgment is a victory for humanity.

“Today’s judgment should bring this shameful mark on the UK’s history to a close.”

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

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

Evidence from the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, cited Rwanda’s 100% rate of rejection of claims from countries in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

This was despite the UK authorities often finding the claims were “well-founded”.

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