James Cleverly: Making Rwanda plan legally watertight will take days rather than weeks

Home Secretary says proposal only a part of measures to tackle illegal migration

Home Secretary James Cleverly says the UK's existing agreement with Rwanda can be upgraded to a treaty. Photo: Home Office
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Agreeing on an international treaty and enacting emergency domestic laws to make the Rwanda plan legally watertight will take "days rather than weeks", UK Home Secretary James Cleverly has said.

The government's proposal to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to the African nation was ruled unlawful by Britain’s highest court on Wednesday.

The UK currently has an agreement with Rwanda that it plans to upgrade to a treaty, Mr Cleverly said.

He told Times Radio on Thursday: "That can be done very, very quickly because we have been working on it for some time.

"And the Prime Minister has committed to making sure that we get this emergency legislation into the House [of Commons] quickly.

"The whole process won't necessarily be done and dusted just in a few days, but the actual parliamentary process can be that quick."

Mr Cleverly said the government was "absolutely determined" for a flight to Rwanda to take-off before the general election expected next year.

Asked to guarantee that would be the case, he said: "We're absolutely determined to make that happen."

But he admitted "the time scales that we are looking at can vary depending on circumstances".

"We are working to get this done as quickly as possible."

His comments on Thursday came after he said there was “clearly an appetite” for the country’s Rwanda concept, after several countries in Europe showed an interest in the scheme, including Italy, Germany and Austria, after the court's judgment.

The ruling has delivered a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's immigration policy to “stop the boats”, which he launched after 45,755 people arrived in the UK by crossing the English Channel illegally in 2022. The number has fallen by about a third in 2023 compared to the same period last year.

The decision means forcibly removing asylum seekers to Kigali, Rwanda's capital, remains prohibited. Before the ruling, the Conservative flagship policy had been stalled by more than a year of legal challenges.

Mr Sunak told MPs he would work with Rwanda to take account of the judges' concerns and finalise a new plan.

He said he would consider changing the law to allow deportations to take place.

“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 said.

Mr Cleverly said the UK’s partnership with Rwanda, “while bold and ambitious, is just one part of a vehicle of measures to stop the boats and tackle illegal migration”.

He said across Europe "illegal migration is increasing" and governments are following the UK's lead.

"Clearly there is an appetite for this concept," Mr Sunak said. "Across Europe, illegal migration is increasing and governments are following our lead – Italy, Germany and Austria are all exploring models similar to our partnership with Rwanda.”

Mr Cleverly later told the Commons: "What we have now seen is other countries are indeed now also exploring third-country models for illegal migration, including Austria, Germany, Denmark and Italy in their deal with Albania – a new and innovative model for processing asylum claims."

Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner this month said his country was “highly interested” in Britain’s plan to move asylum claims off its territory.

“We in Europe do not yet have the legal possibilities,” he said after former home secretary Suella Braverman visited Vienna to brief Austrian officials on the Rwanda plan.

UK government's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is ruled unlawful - in pictures

Mr Karner called for “massive pressure” on EU countries to change the law.

He claimed there was a “widening alliance” of EU members interested in Austria’s proposals. The landlocked country has taken a hard line on migrants arriving from countries such as Tunisia and India.

“We believe it is the wrong signal to send out to people that if they make it to Lampedusa [in Italy] and arrive there, they will be distributed across Europe,” Mr Karner said.

“We believe it would only invite people to start this dangerous journey and further increase migration. We believe that the approach pursued by the UK is therefore very important.”

UK Supreme Court rules Rwanda plan unlawful

UK Supreme Court rules Rwanda plan unlawful

Mr Cleverly told MPs the government had "anticipated the judgment as a possible result" and had for the past few months 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."

Updated: November 16, 2023, 10:49 AM