Jeremy Hunt says Rwanda plan can be saved without leaving ECHR

Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption believes plan is 'probably dead' in its current form.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt outside BBC Broadcasting House on Sunday. PA
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British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said that a “determined” Rishi Sunak will find a way to save the Rwanda deportation plan without leaving the European Convention of Human Rights.

The British Prime Minister has scrambled to save a plan to deport failed asylum seekers to Rwanda after the Supreme Court found it to be unlawful on Wednesday. He has since faced pressure from the right of his party to pull out of the ECHR.

Mr Sunak promised to upgrade the Rwanda deal to a “treaty” which would ensure in law that migrants deported to Rwanda would not then be removed to a third country.

The Chancellor was optimistic that the “hard-working” and “determined” Prime Minister would be able to pass the Conservative’s flagship policy. “We expect planes to be flying to Rwanda in the spring. We will change the law as necessary, we’re going to solve the problems that people are most frustrated about,” Mr Hunt told the BBC.

Mr Hunt said the UK was “making progress” in stopping illegal boat crossings into the UK, which was one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities. “Crossings have not just gone down by a third this year, but in the rest of Europe they’ve gone up by a third,” he said. “We are actually making progress, but there’s still two thirds to go. Our commitment is to do what it takes to stop the boats.”

While the government did not think it “necessary” to withdraw from the ECHR yet, Mr Hunt did not rule out the possibility of doing so in the future. “We don’t believe at this stage that is necessary. But because people like you are asking … in the end our bottom line is very clear: it is elected representatives in parliament who should make this decision,” he said.

Yet Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption believed that the Government's Rwanda plan was “probably dead” in its current form.

When asked by Trevor Phillips on the presenter's Sunday show on Sky News whether the scheme is “dead”, he replied: “I think the current Rwanda scheme is probably dead, but we obviously have to suspend judgment until we see what this legislation or this new treaty looks like.”

He also suggested judges in Strasbourg would come to a similar view of the scheme's legality as UK Supreme Court justices.

He said: “The Government have made clear … that they don't intend to do that (withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights). Although the Government may well ignore interim orders from Strasbourg, they presumably intend to comply with final orders from Strasbourg.

“It (the Strasbourg court) will investigate safety for itself and probably arrive at a conclusion very similar to that of the Supreme Court.”

He also said he is “sceptical” of reported plans to send British civil servants to work in the east African country, adding: “The main problem (with the) scheme is that it outsources to Rwanda the decision about whether people have refugee status.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: November 20, 2023, 9:23 AM