James Cleverly says Rwanda’s new asylum treaty addresses Supreme Court concerns

  • Written by Joshua Nevitt
  • Political correspondent, BBC News

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Home Affairs Minister James Cleverley signed the new treaty with Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta in Kigali

The Home Secretary says a new treaty with Rwanda addresses concerns of the UK Supreme Court, which last month ruled the government’s plan illegal.

The court said the policy, which required sending migrants to Rwanda, was open to human rights violations.

James Cleverly insisted that Rwanda had made a “clear and unambiguous commitment to the safety of people who come here”.

This policy is part of the government’s plan to deter migrants from crossing the canal in small boats.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “stopping the boats” is one of his government’s five key priorities ahead of the next general election.

But the Rwanda scheme – first announced by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April 2022 – has been repeatedly delayed due to legal challenges and no asylum seekers have been sent to the country yet.

Labor has also pledged to scrap the policy if it wins the next election, casting doubt over its long-term future.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said this policy was a “failure” and that funding allocated to it would be better spent “going after” gangs that organize small boat crossings.

The Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, rejected the policy on the grounds that the Rwandan government could not be guaranteed to respect a principle of international law known as non-refoulement.

This principle prevents the state receiving asylum seekers from returning them to any country if doing so would expose them to the risk of harm.

After the ruling, Sunak said his government would work to conclude a new treaty with Rwanda, and said he would introduce emergency legislation to make sure the country is safe.

The legislation is expected to be presented to Parliament this week.

Court concerns

Cleverly traveled to Kigali and signed the new legally binding treaty with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta on Tuesday.

He is the third Home Secretary to make his way to Rwanda – following in the footsteps of his predecessors Priti Patel and Suella Braverman.

The British government says the new treaty ensures that people transferred to Rwanda are not at risk of being returned to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

The treaty establishes a new appeals body, which will be composed of judges with asylum experience from a range of countries, to hear individual cases.

The government says Rwanda’s asylum system will be monitored by an independent commission, and its powers to implement the treaty will be strengthened.

The government says the monitoring committee will put in place a system that will enable transferred people and their lawyers to file complaints.

At a press conference, Mr Cleverly insisted that Rwanda was a safe country and said “we feel strongly that this treaty addresses all issues relating to their sovereignty in the Supreme Court.”

He said that this “will be reflected in local legislation soon.”

A spokesman for Rwanda’s government said it had a “proven track record” in providing a home for refugees, and that the new treaty would “reaffirm, in a binding manner, existing obligations” on protecting asylum seekers.

The asylum policy has already cost the UK government at least £140 million, but Mr Cleverly said the UK had not paid Rwanda any additional money for the new treaty.

The Interior Minister said he saw “no reasonable reason” to question Rwanda’s “record” in dealing with asylum cases, and expressed his hope to see the scheme implemented “as quickly as possible”.

He said Rwanda had a “strong reputation” for being humanitarian and was “uncomfortable” with the “tone” of criticism directed at Rwanda.

The Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister suggested that “domestic politics in the United Kingdom” may have played a role in obstructing the asylum policy.

But Biruta said: “I would say there is always room for improvement in any system designed by humans, whether Rwandan or British.

“That’s why we’re working on this treaty…to make sure that we can improve our asylum system and that we have a fair and transparent asylum system.”

Conservative MPs from their party are pressuring Mr Sunak to stop migrant boat crossings.

More than 45,700 people crossed the Channel to reach the UK in 2022, the highest number since records began.

In the coming days, the government will introduce new legislation to try to avoid further legal challenges to its plan in Rwanda.

The One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs has expressed concerns about the legislation and fears it may seek to ignore UK and international human rights laws.

Some Conservative MPs claim that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty, would prevent the Rwanda plan from being derailed by legal challenges.

But senior Tory MP Damian Green said Conservatives like himself “cherish these treaties and they should be seen as an essential part of protecting the UK’s democratic legacy”.

The UK government is also facing calls to reduce net migration, which has risen to a record high of 745,000 in 2022.

The Conservatives have repeatedly promised to reduce net migration since winning power in 2010, and to “take back control” of the UK’s borders after the Brexit vote.

The Home Secretary on Monday announced a package of measures including raising the minimum wage required for skilled workers abroad from £26,200 to £38,700.

Mr Cleverly claimed that 300,000 people who were eligible to come to the UK last year would not be able to do so in the future.

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