UK publishes emergency bill to allow deportation plan to Rwanda

The UK’s immigration minister has resigned after the government published a bill declaring Rwanda a safe country for a migrant deportation scheme.

Members of staff board a plane at Boscombe Down air base in Wiltshire, UK.
The first deportation flight to Rwanda was blocked by a last-minute injunction on June 14, 2022 [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

The UK ruling Conservative party is in disarray after the government published emergency legislation aimed at allowing a controversial deportation scheme to Rwanda to move forward.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s position looked vulnerable on Wednesday after immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned due to “strong disagreements with the direction” of the government’s policy on immigration.

The “Safety of Rwanda Bill” is designed to overcome a November 15 ruling by the UK Supreme Court that found the government’s proposed scheme to send thousands of asylum seekers and migrants to the East African nation to be unlawful.

The draft bill, which deems Rwanda a safe country and is set to be rushed through the House of Commons, bypasses some sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and “any other provision or rule of domestic law, and any interpretation of international law by the court or tribunal”.

The proposed legislation would also give courts the ability to ignore any injunction from the European Court of Human Rights to block flights.

Sunak has promoted the emergency law, saying it allowed the deportation plan to no longer be bogged down in the courts.

“Our new landmark emergency legislation will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel [and] end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“It is parliament that should decide who comes to this country, not criminal gangs.”

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Jenrick wrote that the proposed laws were “a triumph of hope over experience”.

“The stakes for the country are too high for us not to pursue the stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme and negating its intended deterrent,” he wrote.

That was seen as a reference to Sunak’s refusal to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The publication of the law comes a day after British Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a new treaty during a visit to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to include commitments regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and other migrants sent there.

Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, who signed the bilateral treaty with Cleverly, said on Wednesday that any breach of global conventions could see Rwanda withdraw from the deal.

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership,” he said, referring to the controversial deal.

The Rwanda plan is at the centre of Sunak’s immigration policy, and its success is likely to be key to the fortunes of his Conservative Party, trailing about 20 points in opinion polls, before an election expected next year and with the issue one of the biggest concerns among voters.

The prime minister, born to parents of Indian descent who immigrated to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s, has vowed flights would begin in the spring of next year.

Britain signed a deal in April 2022 under which some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK across the English Channel on boats were to be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed.

On June 29, 2022, a London Court of Appeal ruled that the policy was unlawful under Britain’s Human Rights Act, which incorporates Europe’s convention on human rights into British law. The first deportation flight to Rwanda was blocked by a last-minute injunction from the ECHR on June 14, 2022.

The UK Supreme Court last month concluded that the UK is party to various conventions, including the refugee convention, which would dictate that the Rwanda plan is unlawful, owing to the potential of human rights abuses in Rwanda or the refugees’ home countries.

The court said that Rwanda was not safe for refugees and that people could only be sent to countries that follow the non-refoulement rule. The United Nations refugee agency has produced evidence of Kigali breaching the rule in a deal with Israel.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies