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Conservatives manifesto vows Rwanda flights but stops short of leaving ECHR

11 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Photo Home Office/PA Wire

The Conservative manifesto repeated promises to get Rwanda flights off the ground but stopped short of threatening to walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Prime Minister said the Tories were offering “lower immigration” as part of a “secure future” as he reaffirmed his commitment to “stop the boats” in a bid to curb Channel crossings and cut the numbers of migrants arriving in the UK “illegally”.

While Rishi Sunak reiterated his promise to get Rwanda flights off the ground if he was re-elected, he would not say how many asylum seekers would be deported under the multimillion-pound deal which has stalled for more than two years amid legal challenges.

‘Operational security’

“We’ve deliberately not (put a number on departing flights) because we don’t want to compromise operational security, but I’ve been very clear that it’s not just about one flight,” he said on Tuesday, while the manifesto promised a “relentless continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda with a regular rhythm of flights every month starting this July, until the boats are stopped”.

But the document stops short of saying the UK could leave the ECHR, despite calls from some on the right of the party, including former home secretary Suella Braverman.

“If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECHR, we will always choose our security,” it said.

Some Tories have blamed the convention and its presiding Strasbourg court for frustrating efforts to send migrants to the east African nation – which Mr Sunak has repeatedly heralded as a key policy needed to deter Channel crossings – after the first flight attempt in 2022 was grounded in the wake of a last-minute ruling. They argue that since Brexit the UK should not be bound by judgments in foreign courts.

Supreme Court

But since then ultimately it was the Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – which sent the Government back to the drawing board last year when senior judges ruled the entire policy was unlawful.

The Safety of Rwanda Act, which received Royal Assent in April, is designed to address flaws in the scheme set out in the Supreme Court ruling, alongside a bolstered treaty. But whether these measures will be enough to see the plan succeed is yet to be tested as questions remain over whether it is value for money for taxpayers and if it will have the desired effect.

Meanwhile, fresh High Court legal challenges against elements of the policy are under way.

Facing questions, Mr Sunak rejected suggestions he had “fudged” policy aimed at pushing back against ECHR decisions, arguing he had changed the law so ministers had powers to do just that.

Whether this will happen in practice remains to be seen.


After the manifesto launch, a Tory spokesman pressed by reporters on whether 100,000 asylum seekers – roughly the size of the backlog of claims awaiting a decision – could be sent to Rwanda repeatedly said the number which could be deported under the scheme was “uncapped”.

A total of 118,329 people were waiting for an initial decision on a UK asylum application at the end of March, Home Office figures show.

But the criteria for the Rwanda policy suggests not all of the asylum seekers whose claims are awaiting a decision are currently eligible for removal.

The Home Office said last month only asylum seekers who arrived in the UK on or after January 1 2022 who were told their claim may be considered “inadmissible” under new rules and those “who have had an earlier protection or human rights claim refused or withdrawn and are unable to appeal their decision” were at risk of deportation to Rwanda.

The provisions have prompted questions from campaigners who have asked what would happen to the other asylum seekers awaiting decisions and suggested they are being left in “limbo”.

Announcing the deal two years ago, then-prime minister Boris Johnson said Rwanda would have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.

But neither the initial Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and Rwanda nor the updated treaty specify a number of asylum seekers that will be sent there, saying only that the scheme will take “into account Rwanda’s capacity to receive them”.

This has previously been only a few hundred people at most, subject to more accommodation being set aside or built.

Rwanda government officials anticipated around 2,000 asylum seekers to be sent within the first four months of the scheme with a total of 10,000 expected over the five years of the initial partnership, Parliament previously heard.

It would cost £1,969,874 per person, or just under £2 million, to send 300 people to Rwanda, according to a fact check carried out by the PA news agency in April using calculations published by Whitehall’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office.


While these figures might suggest sending 100,000 people could amount to costs running into the billions, it is not possible to provide an accurate estimate because the overall per person costs would reduce as more people are sent and costing projections for higher numbers of deportations have not been published.

Other pledges in the manifesto as part of efforts to crack down on “illegal” migration include:

– Clearing the asylum backlog, with “all claims processed in six months” and ending the use of hotels to house migrants awaiting a decision.

– Signing more returns deals.

– Working with other countries to “rewrite asylum treaties to make them fit for the challenges we face”.

Some of these echo pledges previously made by the Government. More detail on how these could be achieved did not appear to be set out in the document.

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Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
58 minutes ago

Sunak believes this to be a vote winner when most people see it as a complete waste of money and will not deter migrants trying to cross the channel or the people smugglers exploiting them.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
30 minutes ago

The tory manifesto is ridiculous. They haven’t clocked that people want a decent infrastructure. We need investment in the NHS, the police, the justice system including legal aid, the prison service, education, social care, a nationalisation programme for essential utilities, social housing etc etc etc. We want a fairer, kinder people centred society not a neo liberal monetarist one that sucks all the wealth up to the few, demonises the vulnerable and worships greed.

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