UK Government’s Determined Push for Rwanda Asylum Policy Faces Legal Hurdles

Home Secretary James Cleverly defended the Rwanda policy (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is steadfast in its commitment to implement the controversial Rwanda asylum policy before the next general election. Despite facing legal obstacles and criticism, Home Secretary James Cleverly has expressed unwavering resolve in advancing the plan, which involves the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In a recent statement, Cleverly, who was appointed Home Secretary earlier this week, asserted that the policy is nearing a crucial phase. “We are absolutely determined to make that happen,” he said, referring to the government’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. This move comes after the UK Supreme Court’s ruling highlighted a significant risk of wrongful asylum determinations in Rwanda.

The strategy outlined by Prime Minister Sunak includes transforming the existing memorandum of understanding with Rwanda into a legally binding treaty, expected to be finalized within days. Additionally, the government is poised to introduce emergency legislation, seeking to declare Rwanda a “safe” country, a move that could potentially circumvent challenges based on the European Convention on Human Rights.

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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, October 18, 2023. REUTERS

However, this legislative path does not preclude scrutiny from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which retains the authority to assess the safety of Rwanda as a destination for asylum seekers. The UK courts, under the proposed legislation, would be compelled to accept the parliamentary declaration of Rwanda’s safety.

The policy has sparked a divide, with former Supreme Court justice Jonathan Sumption and the chair of the Bar Council, Nick Vineall KC, voicing grave concerns. Sumption criticized the government’s approach as “profoundly discreditable,” challenging the constitutional implications of overriding a court decision with legislation.

Amidst these legal and ethical debates, Cleverly remains optimistic about the policy’s deterrent effect on illegal migration and people smuggling. He refuted claims of previously criticizing the policy in private, telling Sky News, “I don’t recognize that phrase,” when questioned about the alleged description of the policy as “batshit.”

James Cleverly said the controversial policy was already having ‘a deterrent effect’ on people smugglers. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Shutterstock

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has openly questioned Cleverly’s commitment to the policy, citing his alleged past remarks. She argues that such an approach is not in alignment with the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite the contention, Cleverly maintains that withdrawing from the ECHR is not currently on the agenda, emphasizing a focus on reform rather than withdrawal. This stance comes as the Conservative Party faces internal pressure to address the issue of illegal migration, particularly as the next general election looms.