LONDON — Rishi Sunak has attempted to revive the British government’s controversial idea to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda with an “emergency” law intended to overcome objections to the plan.
In new legislation published on Wednesday evening under pressure from his Conservative MPs, Sunak’s government took steps to ensure the courts cannot deem the East African country unsafe for asylum purposes.
Combined with a new treaty with Rwanda, signed on Tuesday, it is an attempt to address the main objections of the Supreme Court, which last month ruled the project illegal due to concerns about the robustness of the system of asylum in Rwanda. Conservative MPs from all wings of the party were poring over the details Wednesday evening.
The proposed law – the Rwanda Security (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – states that courts “must definitely treat Rwanda as a safe country”, and therefore cannot consider challenging a person’s deportation to this country on the grounds that Rwanda is not safe. This even applies to complaints that Rwanda might deport the person to another country, or that migrants will not receive “fair and appropriate consideration” of their request.
Significantly, this part of the Bill would apply “notwithstanding” certain elements of the UK’s flagship Human Rights Act, “any other provision or rule of domestic law” or “any interpretation of the law international” by the court. Moderate conservatives may balk at the moves, fearing the UK will flout its international commitments.
However, the bill – which will be subject to further scrutiny in the coming days – does not go as far as some conservative right MPs have called for. It has reservations that immigration officials and immigration courts and tribunals can still prevent a person from being sent to Rwanda if those authorities believe that doing so would be dangerous to that person personally.
Clash with the ECHR
The bill moves away from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), hated by some Tory MPs – but again it may not go far enough to appease them.
Its first line states that Home Affairs Minister James Cleverly is “unable to declare that, in my opinion, the provisions of the Rwanda Security (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are consistent with Convention rights “. But this does not remove the general application of the ECHR, a decision called for by some conservatives.
The new legislation is part of a fight to fulfill the government’s promise that people who make “dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys” to the UK could be deported to Rwanda, their demands for asylum being processed and decided by the Rwandan authorities.
Successful candidates would be based in Rwanda, not the United Kingdom. This was first promised in April 2022 by Boris Johnson, but has since been criticized in the courts.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, former home secretary Suella Braverman – sacked by Sunak in a recent reshuffle and touted as a possible future Tory leader – summed up the right’s argument for of action. “The Conservative Party risks electoral oblivion in a few months if we present another bill doomed to failure. Should we fight for sovereignty or do we let our party die?
Labor opposition leader Keir Starmer, whose party is currently leading in the polls, on Wednesday called the Rwandan plan a “gimmick” and said the millions of public money spent on the project so far had brought “nothing in return”.