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Migrant deportation

Britain proposes bypassing human rights laws to let Rwanda scheme take off

Britain proposes bypassing human rights laws to let Rwanda scheme take off
Britain's home secretary James Cleverly, attends a news conference given by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street in London, Britain, 15 November 2023. EPA-EFE/CHRIS RATCLIFFE / POOL

LONDON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Britain published draft emergency legislation on Wednesday which it hopes will allow its Rwandan migrant deportation scheme to finally take off by bypassing domestic and international human rights laws that might block it.

The “Safety of Rwanda Bill”, published the day after Britain signed a new treaty with Rwanda, is designed to overcome a ruling by the UK Supreme Court that the government’s proposed scheme to send thousands of asylum seekers to the East African country was unlawful.

The government said the bill was “the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced” and it would be fast-tracked through parliament, but suffered a blow when the immigration minister resigned over it.

It shows the divisiveness of the proposals in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservative Party, and it could also trigger further legal challenges.

“Through this new landmark emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts,” Sunak, who has vowed that flights would begin in spring next year, said in a statement.

“We will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped.”

The bill will instruct judges to ignore 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” that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe country to send asylum seekers to.

Ministers alone would also decide on whether to comply with any injunction from the European Court of Human Rights which issued an interim order blocking the first planned flight last year.

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 by about 20 points in opinion polls, before an election expected next year and with the issue one of the biggest concerns among voters.

It was not clear whether the bill will satisfy Sunak’s critics on the right of the party who have called for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. Earlier ex-minister Suella Braverman warned that a weak bill would lead to “electoral oblivion”.

Interior Minister James Cleverly confirmed that immigration minister Robert Jenrick had resigned from government after he was absent from a debate in parliament on the issue.

Meanwhile, other Conservatives, who had warned they might not support a bill which flouts international law, welcomed assurances from the government that the measures were legal.

“It is a bill which is lawful. It is fair and it is necessary because people will only stop coming here illegally when they know that they cannot stay here,” interior minister James Cleverly told parliament.

However, legal commentators said the new legislation would inevitably face challenges in the courts.

“If the government had wished to avoid legal challenges and had also had a high degree of confidence that Rwanda, in fact, is – and will continue to be – a safe place, it seems unlikely that it would have chosen to introduce a bill in this form,” said Nick Vineall, chair of the Bar Council.

The government says the Rwanda scheme would deter migrants from paying people smugglers to ferry them from Europe across the Channel to Britain. Almost 29,000 people have arrived on the southern English coast without permission this year, after a record 45,755 were detected in 2022.

Meanwhile the cost of housing the 175,000 migrants awaiting an asylum decision is costing 8 million pounds ($10 million) a day.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the plan would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation because deficiencies in the Rwanda asylum system meant migrants were at risk of being sent back to their homelands where they were at risk of abuse.

The government say its new binding treaty, which replaced a memorandum of understanding, together with the new law will satisfy those concerns.

Rwanda’s foreign minister Vincent Biruta said it was important that the partnership with Britain was lawful.

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the … partnership,” he said.

The opposition Labour Party’s home affairs spokesperson Yvette Cooper criticised the government’s new law, saying that “the only thing stopping the British government ignoring international law completely is the Rwandan government.”

“(Cleverly) has a treaty and a law he knows will not stop dangerous boat crossings.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden, Alistair Smout, Kylie MacLellan and Muvija M in London, additionalreporting by Philbert Girinema in Kigali; Editing by Kate Holton, Alexandra Hudson, Toby Chopra and David Evans)

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