New Blow to Sunak as Court Rules Rwanda Asylum-Seekers Policy Unlawful
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made it one of his five pledges to voters at the start of 2023 to "stop the boats" carrying trafficked migrants from France and other countries. Now his policy to deter illegal immigration is in limbo.
The UK's Supreme Court has upheld the appeal court's ruling that the the government's policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
The unanimous decision delivered on Wednesday morning by the body, formerly the Law Lords, dealt a blow to a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's pledge to stop the flood of people-trafficking in dangerous small boats from the European continent.
The policy, announced 18 months earlier under former PM Boris Johnson, would see illegal immigrants who claimed asylum in the UK after crossing other safe countries sent to the east African nation to apply for resettlement there.
The Court of Appeal had previously ruled the policy unlawful in light of the UK's commitments to several international treaties which do not allow 'refoulement' of asylum claimants and refugees to to their home countries if their is risk they will suffer harm.
Lord Justice Reed reviewed those arguments and claimed that there were "serious and systematic defects" in the Rwandan asylum claims system. He cited previous warnings to travellers from the Foreign Office and claims by the Home Office that the President Paul Kagame's government had plotted to kill Rwandan residents in the UK as evidence that the country — now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations — had a "poor human rights record."
The judgement also made issue of Rwanda's "surprisingly high rate of rejection of asylum claims" by applicants from Afghanistan,
Syria and Yemen, when British authorities had accepted migrants from the same countries.
Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo objected to the court's accusation that his country was unsafe for asylum-seekers.
"Rwanda is committed to its international obligations, and we have been recognized by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees," Makolo said.
Protesters celebrated outside the court in London after the decision was read out.
The result will leave the prime minister open to further attacks from the Conservative backbenches, just weeks after a string of by-election defeats days and after a controversial cabinet reshuffle that saw anti-Brexit former PM David Cameron returning to the cabinet
as Foreign Secretary.
Sunak said the ruling was "not the outcome we wanted," but insisted that: "we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats."
Former home secretary Suella Braverman, who Sunak sacked on Monday morning, condemned the PM in an open letter
on Tuesday for "wishful thinking" that the government could apply the policy without withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and amending the UK Human Rights Act.
"Your rejection of this path was not merely a betrayal of our agreement, but a betrayal of your promise to the nation that you would do 'whatever it takes' to stop the boats," Braverman said. "You opted instead for wishful thinking as a comfort blanket to avoid having to make hard choices. This irresponsibility has wasted time and left the country in an impossible position."
"If we lose in the Supreme Court, an outcome that I have consistently argued we must be prepared for, you will have wasted a year and an Act of Parliament, only to arrive back at square one," she continued. "Worse than this, your magical thinking — believing that you can will your way through this without upsetting polite opinion — has meant you have failed to prepare any sort of credible ‘Plan B’."