British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to appeal a court ruling that his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
Court of Appeal judges on Thursday overturned a High Court ruling that previously said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country”
Their decision marks a significant setback for the Prime Minister's pledge to secure Britain’s borders and is a further blow to his premiership.
The government's Illegal Migration Bill, which is passing through Parliament, says that all asylum seekers arriving via “irregular means” risk being forcibly removed to Rwanda.
In a ruling on Thursday, the court ruled by a majority of two to one that, unless and until Rwanda's asylum system is amended, deporting migrants there “will be unlawful”.
The Court of Appeal’s decision was announced by Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett during a short hearing in London.
He said the court reached its conclusion on the law and took “no view whatsoever” about the political merits of the policy.
He said the court ruled by a majority that the policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
Lord Burnett heard the appeal with Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill during a four-day session in April.
He said both judges concluded that deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda mean there is a “real risk” asylum seekers could be returned to their home country and face persecution or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good claim for asylum.
Lord Burnett disagreed with the other two judges and concurred with the High Court’s ruling.
He said Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill found that: “In that sense Rwanda is not a ‘safe third country’.”
“That conclusion is founded on the evidence which was before the High Court that Rwanda’s system for deciding asylum claims was, in the period up to the conclusion of the Rwanda agreement, inadequate,” he added.
“The court is unanimous in accepting that the assurances given by the Rwandan government were made in good faith and were intended to address any defects in its asylum processes.
“However, the majority believes that the evidence does not establish that the necessary changes had by then been reliably effected or would have been at the time of the proposed removals.
“In consequence, sending anyone to Rwanda would constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, with which Parliament has required that the government must comply.”
Lord Burnett continued in a summary of the ruling: “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 process are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.”
The decision represents a major win for campaigners and charities who had criticised the plan.
MPs have urged Mr Sunak's government to amend its Illegal Migration Bill to ensure that minors who are seeking asylum will not be detained or sent to Rwanda.
In a message posted on Twitter, Mr Sunak said: “While I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.”
“We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court,” he added.
Asked if the government would consider changing its Rwanda policy to give assurances that deported asylum seekers would not be sent back to their home countries, No 10 declined to comment.
Referring to the ruling, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters that the government would “look carefully at some of the issues raised” and would “consider what, if anything, is appropriate in our approach”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman echoed Mr Sunak's comments, insisting she remained “fully committed” to the policy.
“The British people want to stop the boats, and so does this government,” she said. “That’s what I am determined to deliver and I won’t take a backward step from that.
“We need innovative solutions to smash the business model of the people-smuggling gangs, which is why we formed this partnership with Rwanda.
“The Court of Appeal have been clear that the policy of relocating asylum seekers to a safe third country for the processing of their claims is in line with the Refugee Convention,” Ms Braverman said.
“While we are disappointed with their ruling in relation to Rwanda’s asylum system, I will be seeking permission to appeal this.
“I remain fully committed to this policy as does the Rwandan government.”
In a further statement to MPs in the House of Commons, Ms Braverman said illegal immigrants are “abusing” the UK's asylum system.
“The British people will no longer indulge the polite fiction that we have a duty or infinite capacity to support everyone in the world who is fleeing persecution, nor anyone that would simply like to come here to improve their lot and succeeds in making it to our shores,” she said.
“That abuse is unfair on local communities forced to absorb thousands of illegal arrivals and the pressure on public services and social cohesion that this entails.
“It is unfair on taxpayers who foot the hotel bill currently running to £6 million a day, that could rise to £32 million a day by 2026, for people who have broken into this country.
“It is unfair on those who play by the rules and who want to see an asylum system that is fit for purpose, that our current system is exploited and turned against us by those with no right to be in the UK.”
Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the government in Kigali, said ministers “take issue with the ruling” and said migrants and refugees have “equal rights and opportunities” as Rwandans.
“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,” she 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.”
During a hearing in April, the court heard from UNHCR that Rwanda had a record of human rights abuses towards refugees.
But a lawyer for Ms Braverman said she was confident that the Rwandan government would abide by undertakings given in a memorandum of understanding signed by the two nations.
Ms Braverman visited Rwanda in March to shore up support for the plan, and visited accommodation earmarked for asylum seekers from Britain. In April, she said her department was making “very steady progress” with the policy but refused to say if flights would begin in the summer.
Reacting to the court's decision, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the government's Rwanda plan is “callous and unworkable” and “shames us as a nation”.
Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP and former party leader, welcomed the “excellent news” that the court had ruled against the government's plan. She hit out at the “utterly inhumane, grotesquely immoral and totally unworkable” scheme and called for change.
“Time for an asylum policy which treats people with respect and dignity,” she added.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said after the court's ruling the UK government should draw up a deportation plan with Emmanuel Macron's government.
“France is a safe country, we should send people straight back there,” he wrote on social media.