Home Office working on new Rwanda treaty after Supreme Court ruling

Sunak says he is also "prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks"
Sunak greets the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame at Downing Street in May. Photo: Belinda Jiao/Alamy Stock Photo

By Caitlin Doherty

16 Nov 2023

Rishi Sunak has told MPs that the government is working on securing a new deal with Rwanda, after the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to the country was unlawful.

The prime minister has also said he would be willing to “revisit” domestic legal frameworks, after his policy intended to stop small boats crossings was blocked. 

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Sunak told the Commons that “the government has been working already on a new treaty with Rwanda and we will finalise that in light of today's judgement. 

“And furthermore, if necessary, I am prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks.” 

He added: "Let me assure the house my commitment to stopping the boats is unwavering."

Home secretary James Cleverly would later dismiss suggestions that the government could leave the European Convention on Human Rights, telling parliament he was: "not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row for political gain".

After former home secretary Suella Braverman accused Sunak of not having a “Plan B” in place ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, attentions will be focused on what the PM does next to try and achieve his pledge of stopping small boats crossing the Channel. 

One former Tory immigration minister has said that officials should be concentrating on their conversations with the source countries of small boats, while some Conservative MPs have made clear their hopes that the plans will go ahead regardless. 

Yesteraday morning, the Supreme Court dismissed the government’s appeal and ruled that the government’s Rwanda policy was unlawful on the grounds that asylum seekers could be sent back to their country of origin by Rwanda. 

The Times reported this week that the government has drawn up a number of contingency plans to keep to its strategy to send migrants to Rwanda despite the Supreme Court’s decision. 

According to the newspaper, among the ideas being considered by ministers include ratifying the Rwanda deal with a treaty approved by a vote in the Commons, and passing emergency legislation that would override human rights laws. 

Meanwhile, the i reported that officials could try to agree Rwanda-style deals with other countries. 

The paper reported that two countries are thought to be going through a government assessment process. 

Speaking to reporters in parliament after the ruling, Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said that: “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". 

While former cabinet minister Simon Clarke told Sky News that the "gauntlet has now been thrown doen". 

He added: " I think we are going to have to pass emergency legislation at a minimum to set out that the will of parliament will apply."

In comments after the ruling this morning, Sunak said that the judgement was “not the outcome we wanted” but that officials have spent “the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats”. 

Sunak added: “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.” 

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.”

Caitlin Doherty is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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