Rish Sunak preparing law that would defy ECHR over Rwanda asylum deportation plans

The UK Prime Minister said his 'patience is worn thin' by delays to the proposed treaty

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed is a significant part of Mr Sunak's pledge to tackle small boats carrying migrants to Britain. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Rishi Sunak is reportedly preparing legislation to allow asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda that would allow the UK to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights.

Speaking at Cop28 in Dubai, the Prime Minister said his “patience is worn thin” by delays to a proposed treaty with the African nation, enshrined in UK law after the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed is a significant part of Mr Sunak's pledge to tackle small boats carrying migrants crossing the English Channel. He plans to introduce emergency legislation allowing Parliament to deem the scheme safe, but this has been delayed.

While a court has no constitutional power to overturn an Act of Parliament, the UK is still bound by international treaty obligations, in particular the ECHR.

The Prime Minister is said to be weighing up the option of removing the right of judicial review under the UK’s Human Rights Act and a legal mechanism known as notwithstanding clauses, according to the Telegraph.

This can prevent judges from applying protections in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to asylum cases.

This was the preferred option of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and is also backed by many MPs on the right wing of the Conservative Party.

But Government lawyers have reportedly warned that instructing the courts to ignore the ECHR risks opening up more avenues for migrants to challenge the legality of deportation flights, on the basis that it would breach Britain's convention obligations.

The Illegal Immigration Act places a legal duty on the Home Secretary to remove anyone arriving irregularly to the UK, such as via a small boat, either to their home country or to a safe, third country.

Five justices of the UK Supreme Court rejected the government's appeal against a European Court ruling that migrants could not be sent to Rwanda because it could not be considered a safe third country.

Speaking at Cop28, Mr Sunak said the goal is to “make sure that Parliament can declare unequivocally” that Rwanda is a safe place to operationalise the scheme.

Once affirmed by Parliament, he said, “there should be no more domestic blocks to us putting in place this programme”.

“But I've also been clear that I won't allow a foreign court to block us from flights taking off. My patience is worn thin, the British people's patience is worn thin.

“And although we've made great progress on this issue – reducing the number of small boat crossings by a third this year, something that everyone thought was impossible when I got this job – we've got more to go.

“I want to finish the job and that's why I'll get the Rwanda scheme up and running.”

Mr Sunak met Rwanda's president Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the climate talks in Dubai and the pair are said to have talked for around 10 minutes.

The Prime Minister insisted that Mr Kagame remained committed to the deal and it would soon be finalised.

“We have a deep partnership with Rwanda, which he's committed to, as am I,” he said.

Downing Street has been approached for comment.

Updated: December 02, 2023, 2:09 PM