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Ministers to seek appeal after judges declare Rwanda asylum policy unlawful

29 Jun 2023 6 minute read
Seated top, (left to right) Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, and Lord Justice Underhill. Image Cameras in Court/PA Wire

The UK Government will seek to appeal against a ruling that its plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are unlawful, as Rishi Sunak said he “fundamentally” disagrees with the decision.

In a majority decision on Thursday, judges at the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court ruling that previously said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country”.

The Court of Appeal’s decision was announced by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett during a short hearing in London, where he stressed the court reached its conclusion on the law and took “no view whatever” about the political merits of the policy.

In a statement, the Prime Minister said: “While I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.

“I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries – something that the Lord Chief Justice agrees with.

“Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

“The policy of this government is very simple, it is this country – and your government – who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs. And I will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.”

Fully committed

This was echoed by Suella Braverman, who said she was “fully committed” to the policy.

The Home Secretary said in a statement: “The British people want to stop the boats, and so does this Government. That’s what I am determined to deliver and I won’t take a backward step from that.

“We need innovative solutions to smash the business model of the people smuggling gangs, which is why we formed this partnership with Rwanda.

“The Court of Appeal have been clear that the policy of relocating asylum seekers to a safe third country for the processing of their claims is in line with the Refugee Convention.

“While we are disappointed with their ruling in relation to Rwanda’s asylum system, I will be seeking permission to appeal this.

“I remain fully committed to this policy as does the Rwandan government.”

Asked whether the Rwanda policy could be toughened up to provide further “assurances” that migrants flown to the country would not be sent back home, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Yes, so obviously this is a very detailed judgment and the Lord Chief Justice dissents with other judges.

“We need to go through that carefully and consider what if anything if is appropriate in our approach. Obviously some of these issues we’d want to put before the Supreme Court should we be given permission to do that. I’m not going to pre-empt that.”

Downing Street refused to say whether it still believes any migrants will be sent to Rwanda before the next election.

In his summary of the court’s decision, Lord Burnett said there was a “deliberately tight timetable” to decide the consequences of the ruling, in part so any bid to for the go-ahead for a Supreme Court challenge “can be decided promptly”.

‘Real risk’

In the 161-page ruling following the appeal in April, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill concluded that deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda mean there is a “real risk” asylum seekers could be returned to their home country and face persecution or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good claim for asylum.

Sir Geoffrey continued: “In practice, Rwanda can only deliver on its good faith assurances if it has control mechanisms and systems in place to enable it to do so.

“Both history and the current situation demonstrate that those mechanisms have not yet been delivered. They may in the future be delivered but they are not, on the evidence, there now.”

The judge added: “Our conclusion on the safety of Rwanda issue means that the Rwanda policy must be declared unlawful.”

Ms Braverman is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons later on Thursday, while Labour said the decision shows that the Government’s plan to stop small boats crossings is “completely unravelling”.


Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described the Rwanda policy as “unworkable, unethical and extortionate, a costly and damaging distraction from the urgent action the Government should be taking”.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling is the latest setback in Rishi Sunak’s efforts to “stop the boats” – one of his flagship policy pledges.

So far this year 11,279 people have been detected making the trip, according to provisional Home Office figures, while the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill aimed at beefing up powers to tackle the problem has suffered a series of defeats during its passage through the House of Lords.

The flagship legislation, which has already been passed by the Commons, saw four Government defeats in the Lords on Wednesday.

Thursday’s judgment also comes days after the Home Office’s own figures showed the Government could spend £169,000 on every asylum seeker forcibly removed to a third country such as Rwanda.

Nearly two in five people would need to be deterred from crossing the Channel in small boats for the the Illegal Migration Bill to break even, the economic impact assessment published on Monday said.

The £169,000 cost includes flights and detention, as well as a £105,000 per person payment to third countries, though the the sum is an estimate not based on the true cost of the “commercially sensitive” Rwanda scheme.

Campaigners welcomed the appeal ruling, with charity Asylum Aid, which brought the challenge alongside several asylum seekers, describing the decision as a “vindication of the importance of the Rule of Law and basic fairness when fundamental rights are at stake”.

The Rwandan government responded to the judgment to say it is “one of the safest countries in the world”.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

Rishi says I am Maharaja of all I survey, my wisdom and my power is absolute…

We have our own self-proclaimed Putin here…

Those who wield power in the Tory party have created yet another monster…

The stake through their collective heart must come via the ballot box at the earliest opportunity…

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