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Rwanda Plan In Tatters After Supreme Court Rules It Unlawful

The Rwanda deportation scheme has been subject to much controversy since it was announced last year (Alamy)

6 min read

The Supreme Court has dismissed the UK government’s appeal and found that the Rwanda scheme is unlawful on the grounds that asylum-seekers could be sent back to their countries of origin by Rwanda.

The Rwanda plan, struck in April 2022, was an agreement between the UK and Rwandan governments to send asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda and have their claims for asylum processed and decided by Rwanda. The UK government has already paid Rwanda £140 million so far.

In June, the Court of Appeal ruled that the scheme was unlawful, but then-home secretary Suella Braverman appealed for the ruling to be overturned. Five Supreme Court judges have now decided in agreement of the ruling, having spent about a month considering legal arguments.

The Supreme Court judge Lord Reed said that the Court of Appeal were entitled to reach the conclusion that the scheme might break international law because it could potentially breach the rule that asylum-seekers cannot be sent back to their country of origin if their life is at risk.  

“We agree with their conclusion,” the judge said. “The Home Secretary’s appeal is therefore dismissed.”

In response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps. This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats."  

He went on: “Crucially, the Supreme Court – like the Court of Appeal and the High Court before it – has confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful. This confirms the Government’s clear view from the outset."

In the afternoon, Sunak told MPs that the government is working on securing a new deal with Rwanda and that he would be willing to “revisit” domestic legal frameworks, after his policy intended to stop small boats crossings was blocked. 

The judge cited evidence from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that showed a risk that Rwanda did not have a proper system to process asylum claims, making it likely that “asylum-seekers may be returned to their country of origin”.

Braverman’s case “failed to pay proper consideration to UNCHR evidence”, according to the judge and he said the Court thought this “was a mistake”.

“Rwanda has a poor human rights record,” the judge said, listing how the government had carried out extrajudicial killings and torture. He also raised concerns about media and political freedoms, and questioned whether Rwandan courts act independently of Rwanda governments in assessing appeals of claims in “politically sensitive cases”.

“There are systemic defects in Rwanda’s procedures and institutions in processing asylum claims,” he said.

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary by the prime minister in a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this week (Alamy)

Lord Reed also referenced Rwanda’s 100 per cent claim rejection rate of asylum seekers from certain conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, and Rwanda's failure to fulfil undertakings it gave to the government of Israel in a similar agreement between 2013 and 2018. 

The ruling presents a huge issue for the government, as the scheme is fundamental to its plans to “stop the boats”: one of the prime minister’s five key pledges at the start of 2023. 

Former home secretary Suella Braverman wrote a letter to Rishi Sunak on Tuesday accusing him of betraying the nation by backtracking on a secret deal to ignore European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rulings.

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke responded on X that the ruling meant the Rwanda policy was "effectively at an end".

"The Supreme’s Court decision on Rwanda means the policy is effectively at an end," she said.

"No planes will be leaving and we now need to move forward. With Winter coming the timing of this decision couldn’t be worse. Be in no doubt, this will embolden the people smugglers and put more lives at risk.

"A fresh policy is now needed: a new Cross Channel Agreement with France to stop the boats leaving and return those that do to the safety of the French coast. That should be David Cameron’s top foreign policy priority."

Brendan Clarke-Smith, another Tory MP, suggested the Supreme Court judges were "enemies of the people" by posting an old Daily Mail headline on X.

A former cabinet minister told PoliticsHome: "I am not entirely surprised, it will pile pressure on PM and his boat policy.

"If they agree game over it’s like him admitting defeat on his policy."

They added that they thought the government would now be put "under pressure from certain people" to leave the ECHR.

Another former cabinet minister said they believed the government could simply write a "one page bill" to alay the concerns of the Court.

"There is a bit of an issue here: Parliament at the end of the day has got to have its way," they told PoliticsHome.

"And although there are some legitimate arguments about Rwanda, I think it's possible for the government to write a one page bill to correct all of this which makes it not withstanding and drive it through," they said.

They insisted that although they were "not a fan of the policy", the House of Commons would "try and find a way of making that work".

"But that needs lawyers to trawl through the subpoena and come up with an alternative strategy... the one that Suella failed to write when she was a home secretary," they added.

Responding to the news that the Rwanda plan has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said the prime minister's policy had "failed".

“This damning judgment on his Rwanda policy, where he has already spent more than £140 million of taxpayers’ money, exposes Rishi Sunak’s failure to get any grip or have any serious plan to tackle dangerous boat crossings, which are undermining border security and putting lives at risk," she said.

“Labour argued from the start this plan is unworkable and extortionately expensive, now it has been confirmed as unlawful because the government failed to ensure they had a robust and workable policy. Ministers knew about the weaknesses in this scheme from the start and yet they insisted on making it their flagship policy."

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said: “It was clear from the get-go that the Conservatives’ Rwanda scheme was destined to fail.

"Not only is it immoral, unworkable and incredibly costly for taxpayers - but the Supreme Court has confirmed that it’s unlawful too. 

“So much time and money has already been wasted. It’s time for James Cleverly to get serious and get on with fixing the broken asylum system. Tackling the sky-high asylum backlog and creating safe and legal routes for sanctuary will make far more progress towards that than this pet project policy ever could.”

Additional reporting by Tom Scotson

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