PM to introduce 'emergency legislation' after Rwanda asylum plan deemed unlawful

The PM said he will end the 'merry-go-round' of legal challenges with a law to deem Rwanda a safe country, Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

Rishi Sunak has promised emergency legislation and a new treaty with Rwanda to ensure his flagship asylum policy is not blocked again after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful.

The prime minister said he will end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges with a law to deem Rwanda a safe country, after his plans to “stop the boats” were blocked.

He was resisting pressure from the Tory right to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights but vowed: “I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.”

The new home secretary James Cleverly said the government was "absolutely determined" to get a flight to Rwanda in the air before the next general election - which is expected next year.

Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday, he said: “We’re absolutely determined to make that happen.”

But he admitted “the timescales that we are looking at can vary depending on circumstances”. He added: “We are working to get this done as quickly as possible.”

ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana has spoken to Tory MPs after Rishi Sunak laid out how he would press ahead with the Rwanda policy

It comes after Lord Reed, the president of Supreme Court, said the policy was unanimously ruled unlawful because the court could not be certain asylum seekers would not be returned to their country of origin.

Care4Calais, a charity supporting almost 1,000 migrants who had been told they would be deported to Rwanda, said the judgment "is a victory for humanity".

"This grubby, cash-for-people deal was always cruel and immoral, but, most importantly, it is unlawful," it said, adding: "Never again should our government seek to shirk our country’s responsibility to offer sanctuary to those caught up in horrors around the world."

Downing Street said the PM spoke to Rwanda President Paul Kagame on Wednesday morning, following the ruling to offer "extra assurances" that they would continue to work together.

“Both leaders reiterated their firm commitment to making our migration partnership work and agreed to take the necessary steps to ensure this is a robust and lawful policy and to stop the boats as soon as possible,” a spokesman added.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand explains what Wednesday's ruling means for the government

Mr Sunak also defended Lee Anderson after the deputy Tory chairman suggested ministers should “ignore the law”, which is not part of the PM’s current plans.

He said he “absolutely” shared the “frustrations” of colleagues and people across the country over the situation.

Asked by ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana whether he would sack Mr Anderson over the remarks, Mr Sunak said: “I think what Lee’s comments and indeed the comments of others do is reflect the strength of feeling in the country on this issue.

“And I absolutely share actually in the frustrations that my colleagues and indeed people across the country have about this issue. Everyone should understand the strength of feeling.”

He said that once Parliament endorses his new treaty with Rwanda “my patience has run thin, as indeed the country’s patience has run thin”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly angered Tory MPs after arguing that the Rwanda plan was not the “be all and end all” of migration policy.   Credit: PA

Earlier on Wednesday Mr Anderson said ministers should “ignore the law” and start sending asylum seekers to the east African nation.

He described the Supreme Court judgment as a “dark day for the British people” and said ministers should “just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda”.

“I think the British people have been very patient, I’ve been very patient, and now they’re demanding action. And this has sort of forced our hand a little bit now,” he said.

“My take is we should just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda and show strength. It’s time for the government to show real leadership and send them back, same day.”

He added: “I think we should ignore the laws and send them straight back the same day.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Gullis, also part of the New Conservatives grouping, said there was a range of options the government could consider, including physically pushing small boats back into French waters in the Channel.

Lee Anderson is the MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. Credit: PA

The policy was first dreamt up by Boris Johnson's government in April last year and was adopted by Mr Sunak as his flagship anti-illegal-immigration policy which he hoped would deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel.

But 18 months after a £140 million deal was signed with the Rwandan government, no one has been deported there due to multiple legal challenges.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman - who was sacked by Mr Sunak on Monday - stuck the knife into her former boss over his inability to get the policy off the ground.

She'd been pressuring him to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to force through deportations, however the Supreme Court said the policy was also unlawful under British law.

In a resignation letter, she said his “distinctive style of government" means he is "incapable" of successfully stopping Channel crossings.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman visited Rwanda in March. Credit: PA

Reacting to the ruling on Wednesday, Mrs Braverman said the Government must “legislate or admit defeat” as she called for measures to override both the ECHR, the Human Rights Act and other “routes of legal challenge”.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, she said: “Today’s Supreme Court judgment is no surprise. It was predicted by a number of people close to the process. Given the current state of the law, there is no reason to criticise the judges. Instead, the government must introduce emergency legislation.

“The Bill must block off ECHR, HRA, and other routes of legal challenge. This will give Parliament a clear choice: control illegal migration or explain to the British people why they should accept ever greater numbers of illegal arrivals settling here.

“Those who – like me – believe that effective immigration control is vital must understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it: there is no chance of curbing illegal migration within the current legal framework. We must legislate or admit defeat.”

What else did the Supreme Court say?

Lord Reed said the “legal test” in the case was whether there were “substantial grounds” for believing that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be at “real risk” of being sent back to the countries they came from where they could face “ill treatment”.

He said: “In the light of the evidence which I have summarised, the Court of Appeal concluded that there were such grounds.

“We are unanimously of the view that they were entitled to reach that conclusion. Indeed, having been taken through the evidence ourselves, we agree with their conclusion.”

The court said Rwanda’s history “cannot be effectively ignored or sidelined” as the Home Office suggested.

The justices said there was “no dispute” that the Rwandan government entered into its deal with the UK in good faith, with strong incentives to follow the terms of the arrangement.

They continued: “Nevertheless, intentions and aspirations do not necessarily correspond to reality: the question is whether they are achievable in practice.

“The central issue in the present case is therefore not the good faith of the government of Rwanda at the political level, but its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system.

“In agreement with the Court of Appeal, we consider that the past and the present cannot be effectively ignored or sidelined as the Secretary of State suggests.”

The Rwandan government said it disagrees with the ruling that the African nation is not a safe third country for refugees.

"We take our humanitarian responsibilities seriously, and will continue to live up to them," said Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo.

The justices also said there is “evidence of a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda’s obligations under the Refugee Convention” and there are substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...