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Rishi Sunak to revive Rwanda plan after Supreme Court rules against deportation

Rishi Sunak's insisted he could water down the UK's international human rights commitments today after judges dramatically threw out his Rwanda plan.  

At a stormy PMQs session, Mr Sunak tried to put a brave face on the Supreme Court's ruling, stressing that the principle of deporting asylum seekers to a safe third country had been upheld.

He said he was ready to do 'whatever it takes' to tackle the Channel boats crisis. That included drawing up a new treaty with Rwanda, and revisiting the domestic legal framework.

But pressed repeatedly by Conservative MPs he added that 'international conventions' could also be redrawn if necessary once tweaks had been tried. 

'If it becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions are still frustrating the plans at that point, I am prepared to change our laws and revisit those international relationships,' he told MPs.

'The British people expect us to do whatever it takes to stop the boats and that is precisely what this Government will deliver.'

The comments came after the Supreme Court concluded unanimously that the scheme to deport arrivals immediately would break the law. It is a crushing blow to the government, which has already handed Rwanda £140million.

The decision - which ministers had feared for weeks was coming - immediately sparked Tory demands to loosen protections under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so the policy can go ahead.

However, critics pointed out the judgment suggested it would have been struck out on other grounds anyway. The case hinged on whether asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be at 'real risk' of being returned to their country of origin and subject to mistreatment.

Tory Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said the Government should simply 'ignore the laws' and 'just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda'.

Boris Johnson urged Mr Sunak to get Parliament to designate Rwanda a 'safe' country. 

He highlighted a Daily Mail column in which he argued that the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 include powers to make the change.

Mr Sunak will flesh out his 'next steps' in a Downing Street press conference at 4.45pm. 

Making a statement to MPs after PMQs, Home Secretary James Cleverly said the ruling was a 'temporary setback' and the upgraded treaty with Rwanda - which could come before Parliament in days - would toughen rules against repatriating asylum seekers.

During bruising clashes shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper swiped that ministers knew the policy was 'batsh**'.  

But Mr Cleverly's predecessor Suella Braverman has already launched an excoriating attack on Mr Sunak's failure to do what it takes to tackle the Channel crisis, warning he has no 'credible Plan B'.

Even if the government is able to tweak the plan to the satisfaction of the courts MPs fear it could not happen in time to take effect before the election next year. 

Justices at the UK's highest court upheld an earlier High Court judgment on legislation announced 18 months ago to send asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by unauthorised means to Kigali to have their claims heard there. 

In a summary of today's momentous ruling, President of the Supreme Court Lord Reed said there would be a risk of genuine asylum seekers being returned by Rwanda to the home country they fled from. 

Ministers have vowed to press on with the scheme regardless of the result today, with options including elevating the Rwanda deal to a treaty ratified in parliament - making it harder for the courts to block - and passing emergency legislation to disapply human rights laws.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed passing his judgment on the Rwanda deal today 

Making a statement to the Commons, Mr Cleverly said: 'Nothing in the Supreme Court judgment today dims our commitment.

'The Supreme Court has said there are issues with Rwanda's asylum system which could create the possibility of someone being returned to a country where they could face persecution.'

Mr Cleverly added the UK Government has a plan to address the concerns raised, noting: 'We anticipated this judgment as a possible result and for the last few months have been working on a plan to provide the certainty that the court demands.

'We have been working with Rwanda to build capacity and amend agreements with Rwanda to make clear that those sent there cannot be sent to another country than the UK.

'Our intention is to upgrade our agreement to a treaty as soon as possible. That will make it absolutely clear to our courts and to Strasbourg that the risks laid out by the court today have been responded to, will be consistent with international law and ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise it.'

Downing Street said a new treaty with Rwanda would be laid in Parliament in the 'coming days' that the UK Government believes 'addresses concerns raised by the court'.

However, it could take more than 40 sitting days to be approved, meaning that would happen well into next year at best. 


The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'We will lay the treaty in Parliament in the coming days so that flights can commence as soon as possible.

'Obviously the text will be set out when it is published. I'm not going to pre-empt the text itself.

'But we believe it will provide the reassurances that the court has asked for.'

The No 10 official added: 'The court set out a number of issues around refoulement.

'We plan to lay a treaty which seeks to address the concerns raised by the court. At the same time, as the Prime Minister set out, if necessary we are prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks and international conventions as necessary.'

Mr Sunak spoke to Rwandan President Paul Kagame this morning following the judgment.

The PM 'expressed his disappointment at the overall outcome and recognised that there are challenges we must overcome', according to a No10 readout.

'He thanked President Kagame for his Government's work over the last 15 months and the extra assurances we have already agreed as they said they would continue to work together to address the Court's concerns,' the readout said.

'Both leaders reiterated their firm commitment to making our migration partnership work and agreed to take the necessary steps to ensure this is a robust and lawful policy and to stop the boats as soon as possible.'

Outside the Commons, former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke told Sky News that the UK should now consider leaving the ECHR.

'Today is a really serious challenge to who governs Britain and whether Parliament can deliver, when we say we want to address what is clearly, by anyone's standards, an unsustainable level of illegal immigration,' he said.

'For my part I think the gauntlet has now been thrown down and we are going to have to pass emergency legislation – at a minimum – to set out that the will of parliament will apply, notwithstanding the ECHR and the associated conventions that the justices referenced. But we may also have to consider, if that is not legally viable, withdrawal from the ECHR.'

He added: 'This is about whether Britain as a nation state can control who comes to this country and on what terms. It is a fundamental element of whether we are in practice able to govern Britain properly. And if our human rights framework makes that impossible then I am afraid it is the human rights framework that is going to have to change, rather than the policy.'

The New Conservatives group of Tory MPs said ministers must introduce legislation 'immediately' to override the ECHR.

Speaking after a meeting of the group with other Conservatives who share the same view, co-chair Danny Kruger said the Supreme Court judgment felt 'absolutely existential' for the party.

Options being suggested by the New Conservatives are a 'notwithstanding clause' to disapply the ECHR or initiating complete withdrawal from the ECHR.

He said the scope of the ruling meant that the UK's involvement in other treaties and conventions also needs to be considered.

'The Government should immediately announce an intention to do what is necessary to insist on our sovereignty. That means legislation to over-ride the effect of the European court, of the ECHR itself and of other conventions including the Refugee Convention if necessary.'

He added: 'This feels absolutely existential for our party … if this Government will not step up to do whatever it takes to do what the Prime Minister has promised he will, there is no reason for the public to trust us again.'

Dover's Tory MP Natalie Elphicke has said a deal with France is now the best way to stop small boats crossing the English Channel.

She said the Supreme Court's ruling on Rwanda 'means the policy is effectively at an end'.

'No planes will be leaving and we now need to move forward,' she said.

'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.'

Mr Anderson described the Supreme Court judgment as a 'dark day for the British people' and said ministers should 'just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda'.

'I think the British people have been very patient, I've been very patient, and now they're demanding action. And this has sort of forced our hand a little bit now,' he said.

'My take is we should just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda and show strength.

'It's time for the Government to show real leadership and send them back, same day.'

He added: 'I think we should ignore the laws and send them straight back the same day.'

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he hoped the Supreme Court ruling would cause the Government to 'reflect and reconsider its approach'.

Mr Welby said the Church of England had 'been clear in our profound concerns – moral and practical – about outsourcing our obligations to refugees to Rwanda'.

He added: 'We have been clear that the inefficiencies of our asylum system and its failure to treat all people with compassion and dignity must be addressed. Today's decision by the Supreme Court leaves our response to desperate people fleeing conflict and persecution in a state of limbo. I hope this judgment will give the Government the opportunity to reflect and reconsider its approach.'

Unveiling the judgment, Lord Reed said the 'legal test' in the case was whether there were 'substantial grounds' for believing that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be at 'real risk' of being sent back to the countries they came from where they could face 'ill treatment'.

He said: 'In the light of the evidence which I have summarised, the Court of Appeal concluded that there were such grounds.

'We are unanimously of the view that they were entitled to reach that conclusion. Indeed, having been taken through the evidence ourselves, we agree with their conclusion.'

Reacting to the news, Mr Sunak said today: '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.

'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.

'Illegal migration destroys lives and costs British taxpayers millions of pounds a year. We need to end it and we will do whatever it takes to do so.

'Because when people know that if they come here illegally, they won't get to stay then they will stop coming altogether, and we will stop the boats.' 

In their ruling, which the other justices agreed with, Lords Reed and Lloyd-Jones said Rwanda's history 'cannot be effectively ignored or sidelined' as the Home Office suggested.

The justices said there was 'no dispute' that the Rwandan government entered into its deal with the UK in good faith, with strong incentives to follow the terms of the arrangement.

They continued: 'Nevertheless, intentions and aspirations do not necessarily correspond to reality: the question is whether they are achievable in practice.

'The central issue in the present case is therefore not the good faith of the government of Rwanda at the political level, but its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system.

'In agreement with the Court of Appeal, we consider that the past and the present cannot be effectively ignored or sidelined as the Secretary of State suggests.'

In a 56-page judgment dismissing the Home Office's appeal, Lords Reed and Lloyd-Jones said the High Court had wrongly dismissed the evidence of the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, about problems with the Rwandan asylum system.

They said: 'UNHCR's evidence will naturally be of greatest weight when it relates to matters within its particular remit or where it has special expertise in the subject matter.

'Its evidence in the present case concerns matters falling within its remit and about which it has undoubted expertise.'

The Supreme Court justices said there was 'evidence of a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda's obligations under the Refugee Convention'.

Lord Reed added that changes needed in Rwanda's asylum system to 'eliminate the risk' of refugees being returned to their countries of origin where they could face bad treatment 'have not been shown to be in place now'.

Credit: dailymail


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