The British Supreme Court has ruled that a government plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, stating that they would not be safe.
The UK’s highest court issued its unanimous judgement on Wednesday, ruling that the scheme would put asylum seekers at “risk of ill-treatment” because they could be sent back to their home countries once in Rwanda.
The decision deals a major blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s planned hardline immigration policy. Promises to clamp down on illegal migration across the English Channel is a key election promise as he readies for next year’s vote.
“We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps,” Sunak said in a statement. “This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.”
As well as disappointing Downing Street, the ruling drew a rebuke from Rwanda. A government spokesperson said that it takes issue “with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees”.
Britain and Rwanda signed a deal in April 2022 to send some migrants who arrive in the UK across the English Channel to the East African country. There they would have their asylum claims processed. If successful, they would stay.
No one has yet been sent to the country, with the plan facing a series of legal challenges. The Supreme Court was tasked with hearing a government appeal against an earlier court ruling.
The first planned deportation flight in June 2022 was blocked by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, barring any removals until the conclusion of legal action in Britain.
The Rwanda scheme is the central plank of Sunak’s immigration policy, as he has promised to stop migrants arriving without permission by boat to the south coast of Britain.
The UK receives fewer asylum seekers than many European nations, including Germany, France and Italy. Thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel.
More than 27,300 migrants have crossed the Channel this year, with the year’s total on track to be fewer than the 46,000 who made the journey in 2022.
Suella Braverman launched a blistering attack on Sunak after she was sacked as home secretary on Tuesday, saying he had failed to prepare any sort of credible “plan B” if the programme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda failed in the courts.
Government officials say there are options, including negotiating a new deal with Rwanda, upgrading the agreement from a memorandum of understanding and including new safeguards.