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Rishi Sunak Vows To Do "Whatever Necessary" For Rwanda Deportations Despite Court Ruling It's Unlawful

Rishi Sunak has vowed to challenge the court of appeal's ruling that the government's Rwanda deportation policy is unlawful (Alamy)

7 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he "disagrees" with the Court of Appeal ruling that the government's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, which has presented a new challenge for his pledge to reduce the number of illegal crossings to the UK in small boats.

Sunak said the government will do "whatever is necessary" to enact the policy and will seek to appeal the ruling. 

"While I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions," he said in a statement responding to this morning's ruling. 

"Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

"The policy of this government is very simple, it is this country – and your government – who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs. And I will do whatever is necessary to make that happen."

A group of asylum seekers and campaign organisations including Care4Calais, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and Detention Action, brought a case against government's Rwanda Scheme to the High Court last year. 

In December, the High Court ruled the scheme was lawful, but the decision was immediately criticised by Labour and other opposing parties who called it “unworkable, unethical, extremely expensive” and the original claimants brought forward a further legal challenge to the Court of Appeal. 

The Court of Appeal has now ruled the scheme is unlawful. Delivering the Court of Appeal's ruling on Thursday, Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said that a majority had ruled the scheme unlawful, but said that he himself was in the minority of those who believed it was legal and that Rwanda should be deemed a 'safe' third country.

"The result is that the High Court's decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed and that unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful," he said.

"Finally, I should make clear that our decision implies no view whatever the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy.

"Those are entirely a matter for the government, on which the Court has nothing to say. Our concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by parliament."

The judge explained that there were "substantial grounds" for believing that there is a real risk those sent to Rwanda could be returned to their home countries where they face persecution, putting them at risk. However, he said he had come to the "opposite conclusion" himself and believed the UK and Rwanda governments had put in "sufficient safeguards" to prevent this from happening. 

"I take the view that the arrangements put in place provide sufficient safeguards in the context where both governments will be determined to make the agreement work and be seen to do so," he continued.

Human rights campaigners have been trying to stop the plans since they were first announced in spring 2022 and there have been no deportation flights to the African country yet, after the first planned flight was grounded on the runway after an intervention by European judges in June 2022. 

The Rwanda plan involves a deal between the UK and Rwandan governments to allow asylum seekers arriving via ‘irregular means’ to the UK to be forcibly removed and held in Rwanda as a 'safe' third country while their claims are being processed.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman echoed the Prime Minister and said government is  "committed to delivering on that promise" of stopping small boats". 

"The system is rigged against British people, it's as simple as that," she added.

"That's why we're changing the laws through our Illegal Migration Bill. That's why we are rolling out a groundbreaking partnership with Rwanda, which we believe is lawful,  with a country that we believe is safe.

"So we need to change the system, we need to change our laws. That's how we're going to stop the boats." 

A spokesperson for the Rwandan government said they "take issue" with the ruling that it is not a safe country and promised that when migrants arrive, they would be welcomed and supported. 

"While this is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system, we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees," they said.

"Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and we have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees.

"We make a significant contribution to dealing with the impacts of the global migration crisis. Rwandans know what it means to be forced to flee home, and to make a new life in a new country.

"As a society, and as a government, we have built a safe, secure, dignified environment, in which migrants and refugees have equal rights and opportunities as Rwandans. Everyone relocated here under this partnership will benefit from this."

The Rwanda scheme is seen as essential to delivering the government’s Illegal Migration Bill that is currently passing through parliament.

Conservative MP David Jones told PoliticsHome that he was "disappointed" by Thursday's ruling. While he emphasised the importance of "respect[ing]" the court's decision, he backed the idea of it being taken to the Supreme Court. 

"I think also the government should give consideration to legislating to cure the problem through Parliament," he added. 

Jones, the MP for Clwyd West, said if the European Convention on Human Rights makes it "impossible" for the UK to exercise its "legitimate right" to control its borders then the government should "consider whether the convention should apply in cases such as this". 

Today's court ruling was a further blow to the government's migration policy, which also took a beating on Wednesday night when the House of Lords voted to accept a number of amendments to their controversial Illegal Migration Bill. Peers accepted changes to the legislation challenging the government's approach to complying with international laws, unaccompanied child migrants, and victims of trafficking. 

Jones said that "if necessary", the government should use the Parliament Act to push the bill through both houses given the opposition from the Lords. 

"It can't be the case that the unelected house should hold up decisions that have been arrived at by the democratically elected House," Jones added. 

"It's why a lot of MPs are increasingly concerned about the activities of the of the House of Lords."

According to a Home Office economic assessment published on Monday night, the Rwanda plan would cost an estimated £169,000 per migrant.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that ruling shows Sunak "has no plan to fix the Tories’ small boats chaos." 

She added: “Ministers were forced to admit this week that it will cost £169,000 to send each person to Rwanda on top of the £140m of taxpayers’ money they have already spent. Now the court has found that ministers didn't even do the basic work to make sure the scheme was legal or safe.

“Time and again, ministers have gone for gimmicks instead of getting a grip, and slogans instead of solutions, while the Tory boats chaos has got worse. The Rwanda scheme is unworkable, unethical and extortionate, a costly and damaging distraction from the urgent action the government should be taking."

Responding to the Rwanda ruling, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said the Rwanda plan "runs roughshod" over the UK's legal obligations. 

“Not only is the Conservatives’ Rwanda asylum plan immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers, but the Court of Appeal has also now said it is unlawful, too," he said. 

“The Home Secretary needs to finally accept reality. Instead of wasting even more taxpayer money by defending this plan in the courts, the Home Secretary should scrap her vanity project and focus on tackling the asylum backlog created by her own Government’s incompetence.”

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