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What is the government's Rwanda plan? Report warns bill is ‘incompatible with human rights obligations’

 (James Manning / PA)
(James Manning / PA)

A parliamentary committee has warned the Rwanda Safety Bill is “fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations” in a report released on Monday.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said the bill would “damage the UK’s reputation” as an advocate of human rights internationally.

Already facing strong criticism, the policy will be debated in the House of Lords this week. The legislation passed through the House of Commons last month, despite criticism from some Right-wing Conservative MPs who wanted to toughen up the proposals.

The parliamentary committee’s report highlighted that the Rwanda bill would deny access to court for individuals with “arguable claims” based on the country’s safety. It also argued that the bill was inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights as it would deny asylum seekers the right to court injunctions that would allow them to stay in the UK while their claim is processed.

The report said: “The principle that individuals cannot be removed from a country to face a real risk of persecution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or death is a core principle of international law, to which the UK has committed itself on numerous occasions over the past 70 years.”

Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry QC MP added: “This Bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly at a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of a new treaty in the capital Kigali (Ben Birchall / PA Wire)
Home Secretary James Cleverly at a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of a new treaty in the capital Kigali (Ben Birchall / PA Wire)

The report comes after Rishi Sunak faced criticism for taking a "depraved bet" of £1,000 with broadcaster Piers Morgan that no migrant deportation flights would take off to Rwanda before the next election. During an interview with the TalkTV host, the prime minister and Mr Morgan shook hands on the bet, provoking renewed criticism that the PM is too rich to understand ordinary people's concerns.

Mr Morgan told the PM: “I'll bet you £1,000 to a refugee charity, you don't get anybody on those planes before the election. Will you take that bet?”

Mr Sunak shook hands with the TV host and said Rwanda deportations are part of an “overall plan” that was “working”.

The prime minister was immediately criticised by opposition MPs, who accused him of "gambling with people's lives" and reducing vulnerable people "to a crude bet". The SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said in a post on X: "The lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet reduced to a crude bet. It's just a game to these people. Depraved."

"I'm not a betting person and I was taken totally by surprise in the middle of that interview," Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday.

Presenter Rachel Burden put it to him that the bet was more than three times the amount of £299 in cost-of-living payments that the Government started sending out to low-income households on Tuesday.

The PM stressed: "The point I was trying to get across was actually about the Rwanda policy and about tackling illegal migration, because it's something I care deeply about. Obviously people have strong views on this. And I just was underlining my absolute commitment to this policy and my desire to get it through Parliament, up and running, because I believe you need to have a deterrent."

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the policy was unlawful, highlighting that genuine refugees sent to Rwanda could be returned to their native countries, where some face persecution.

In response, Mr Sunak is trying to bring in emergency legislation that aims to deal with the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.

The bill is part of a broader initiative to reduce immigration, a key focus as the next general election approaches. Mr Sunak is now having to contend with Tory rebels and legal challenges – as well as soaring costs associated with his Rwanda plans.

What is the Government’s latest Rwanda plan and how has it changed?

Mr Sunak hopes to soothe the Supreme Court’s concerns by agreeing to a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda. He has also put forward laws that ask Parliament to confirm it believes the African nation is a “safe country” to cut the chances of blocking future flights.

Home Office officials say the treaty centres on preventing what is known as “refoulement”, to address concerns raised in the Supreme Court’s findings. Refoulement is where asylum seekers are removed and returned to a country where they face persecution.

The UK and Rwandan parliaments need to ratify the agreement to make it internationally binding. The agreement seeks to ensure the country does not remove migrants and send them back to their home country, or another, after they have arrived from the UK.

A new appeals process will also be established within Rwanda’s high court to handle exceptional cases — for example, if someone living in the country under the scheme commits a crime — if the Government decides it will seek to deport the asylum seeker.

British, Commonwealth, and Rwandan judges will preside over the appeal court hearings. Rulings will decide whether an asylum seeker remains in Rwanda or is sent back to the UK.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, published on Wednesday, compels judges to regard the country as “safe”. It disapplies sections of the Human Rights Act and international law.

Asylum seekers could still challenge deportation based on their specific circumstances. However, they would not be able to argue that removal to Rwanda risks refoulement.

It is also possible that a court could declare that the legislation is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. However, this would not automatically stop the law’s operation.

Mr Sunak said on Thursday that the legislation will ensure his flagship asylum scheme “cannot be stopped” amid the issue of small boats crossing the Channel.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room (James Manning / PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room (James Manning / PA Wire)

Why are the Tories split on Rwanda?

There are several causes of the Conservative split over Rwanda. The first is a genuine difference in policy, with those on the right of the party prioritising national sovereignty and a desire to “stop the boats”. Meanwhile, those on the left emphasise the rule of law and the UK’s international obligations.

The key focus here is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the right believes the UK should leave altogether. However, there are other treaties such as the Refugee Convention that the UK has signed up to.

As well as differing positions on the ECHR, the Conservatives’ floundering in the polls has heightened a party split.

Many Tory MPs believe that reducing immigration, and particularly ending the scenes of asylum seekers arriving on Kent’s beaches, will be key to narrowing Labour’s lead. They want to see the Government do everything possible to achieve that.

The Government, however, argues that the proposed Bill goes as far as it can because the Rwandan government will pull out of a deal that involves leaving the ECHR altogether.

Home Secretary James Cleverly during a briefing (James Manning / PA)
Home Secretary James Cleverly during a briefing (James Manning / PA)

How much has Sunak’s Rwanda plan cost? 

The Home Office has reportedly paid £240 million so far and intends to spend another £50 million in 2024/25 to get the Rwanda deportations underway.

How many people have been sent to Rwanda from the UK? 

Despite spending millions of taxpayer money on the controversial immigration plan, no deportation flights have taken off from the UK to Rwanda.

At the same time, a YouGov poll found that Sunak’s approval ratings have slumped to an all-time low as the Rwanda debate continues.

Will there be a general election?

A general election on this issue looks unlikely at the moment.

Sunak said the vote on his Bill is not a “confidence matter”.

However, calling an election on the Rwanda policy remains a possibility. He may struggle to carry on if he cannot force through the legislation.

The House of Lords could also pose a significant stumbling block. If it chooses to block the Bill — something it has not done for two decades — Mr Sunak would be unable to pass the legislation without calling an election and including it in his manifesto.

Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta sign a new treaty (Ben Birchall / PA)
Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta sign a new treaty (Ben Birchall / PA)

Who could replace Rishi Sunak as leader?

A leadership challenge before the next general election still appears unlikely, despite rumours of mounting disquiet among the right of the party. Even if there are enough disgruntled Tories to trigger a vote of no confidence — which requires 53 MPs to call for one — there are not enough votes to win one.

However, should the Conservatives lose the next general election, Mr Sunak would face enormous pressure to resign.

In this event, several candidates appear to be keen to become the standard bearer for the party’s right wing. These include Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, who have both been outspoken on Rwanda, as well as former home secretary Dame Priti Patel and current Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch.

It has also been rumoured in Westminster that former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage could join the party and stage a leadership bid. Mr Farage recently took part in the ITV reality show, I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, in Australia.

It appears incredibly unlikely that he would join the Tories after this, though. Mr Farage would have to get selected as a candidate and be elected as an MP (something he has so far failed to do on seven occasions). By this time, the party would already have a new leader, meaning he would need to wait until they quit or attempt to overthrow them and win a new leadership contest.