15 November 2023

Supreme Court rules Rwanda scheme illegal – but ‘political theatre’ likely to continue

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As the UK Supreme Court rules that the government's attempts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, Sunder Katwala looks at what could happen next and why the 'political theatre' of keeping the Rwanda scheme alive hides a major blow to the government's asylum policy.

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The UK Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the government’s Rwanda scheme, to deport UK asylum seekers to the African country to have their claims heard under the Rwandan system, was not lawful.

Citing detailed evidence submitted by UNHCR, which supervises the application of the UN Refugee Convention, Lord Reed, president of the Supreme Court, said there was a “real risk” that asylum seekers could be sent back from Rwanda to countries they had fled from.

Despite the judgement from the UK’s highest court, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that the UK is already negotiating a new treaty with Rwanda.

Reacting to the judgement, Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“This judgement is a major defeat for the government. We will now see a year of political theatre and attempts to keep the Rwanda scheme alive through treaties or new deals. These will surely run out of road before the general election.

“The decision blows a hole in the government’s Illegal Migration Act, which promised to deport anyone arriving by irregular routes to claim asylum – without a viable plan to do so.

“The government will now need a real-world plan to process people’s claims. That will probably happen very quietly, with people admitted into the asylum system. But we have wasted another year when the government could have been starting to reform and build a more effective, fair and humane asylum system.

“Politically, Rishi Sunak may find losing easier than winning. The Rwanda scheme will not be put to the test to see if it really does deter people from crossing the channel. Instead he can argue that it would have worked, if only the courts had not got in the way.”

Earlier this year British Future published Control and compassion: a new plan for an effective and fair UK asylum system’  – a paper setting out ten proposals for reforming asylum protection in the UK.

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