He also vowed he would “not allow a foreign court to block these flights”, although he resisted pressure from the right of his party to immediately pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But he repeatedly refused to say whether the first deportation flight to Kigali would take off before the next general election, saying instead that he hoped the scheme would come into effect next spring. However, campaigners are expected to challenge the new legislation at every stage.
After the Supreme Court issued its damning verdict, the PM faced a furious backlash from Tory MPs who urged him to ignore the law and “get the planes in the air” while warning that his job was on the line.
In an extraordinary day:
Deputy chair of the Tory party Lee Anderson told the PM to “get the planes in the air and send illegal immigrants to Rwanda”
Senior Tories warned that the court ruling was a challenge as to “who governs Britain”
In a major U-turn, the new treaty with Rwanda will mean that anyone transferred there cannot be sent back to their home country
New home secretary James Cleverly downplayed the prospect of ministers pulling Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, while Labour claimed he had once described the Rwanda policy as “bats***”
Campaign group Care4Calais described the ruling as “a victory for humanity”
In its judgment against the government, the court warned that deficiencies in the Rwandan system meant that genuine asylum seekers were at risk of being deported back to countries they had fled, where they could face persecution.
But a defiant Mr Sunak said he would do “whatever it takes” to push his plan through. His plans for an emergency law change would deem Rwanda a safe country and prevent the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges, he claimed.
He also unveiled plans for a new treaty, which Downing Street said would resolve the court’s main concerns. But that, too, is at risk of being beset by legal delays.
At a press conference, Mr Sunak admitted that the government could still face challenges in Strasbourg and said he was “prepared to do what is necessary” if the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened.
He said he believed that a law change would resolve any issues but, crucially, stopped short of saying that the UK would pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights. The new legislation would also make clear that the UK would bring back from Rwanda “anyone if ordered to do so by a court”, he said.
Mr Sunak warned of challenges in the ECHR in Strasbourg, but said he was prepared to “revisit those international relationships to remove the obstacles in our way”, adding: “So let me tell everybody now, I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.”
The UK is expected to pay Rwanda more money for the new treaty. Already £140m has been handed over, though not a single asylum seeker has been sent to the country since the policy was announced in April 2020.
Mr Sunak’s pledge comes after a slew of Tory MPs called on him to act to bypass the court’s decision. Earlier on Wednesday, in a challenge to Mr Sunak’s authority, Mr Anderson said “we should ignore the law” and urged the prime minister to “get the planes in the air”.
Former cabinet minister Simon Clarke also suggested he might submit a letter of no confidence in Mr Sunak over the Rwanda issue if the prime minister failed to act. He said Mr Sunak’s response to the ruling was now a “confidence issue in his judgement as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party”.
Miriam Cates, a leading member of the New Conservatives, a grouping on the right of the party, refused to say she had confidence in the PM, adding: “This is an incredibly significant moment ... because this judgment shows that the British parliament does not run Britain.”
Another member of the group, Danny Kruger, warned: “If this government will not step up and do whatever it takes as the prime minister has promised he will, there is no reason for the public to trust us again,” adding: “We absolutely have to respond to this in the most robust way possible, and genuinely insist on the sovereignty of this country over its borders.”
Refugee charities hailed the ruling as a “victory for the rights of men, women and children who simply want to be safe”. Care4Calais, one of the claimants in the initial legal challenge against the plan, described the ruling as “a victory for humanity”. “Today’s judgment should bring this shameful mark on the UK’s history to a close,” its CEO Steve Smith said.
One of the asylum seekers whom the Home Office tried to send to Rwanda in June 2022 told The Independent he was “so happy” at the news that the deportation plans had failed. He called on Mr Sunak’s government to process his asylum claim, and those of other migrants who he said are “living in limbo” waiting for their decisions.
Mr Sunak’s dramatic announcement on emergency legislation came hours after his predecessor Boris Johnson waded into the row, also calling for parliament to legally deem Rwanda a safe country in order to force through the deportation scheme.
The former prime minister shared an article from June in which he had argued for “radical action” to “get Rwanda done”.
The Daily Mail columnist wrote in his article: “As the judgment points out, the government has the power, under Schedule 3 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, to ask parliament to deem Rwanda a safe country. That has not so far been done and it should now be done – immediately.”
Writing on X, formerly Twitter, after the ruling, Mr Johnson said: “If you want to know what the government of 2019 -2022 would have done, here is your answer. It’s the only way.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an apology from Mr Sunak for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on the “ridiculous, pathetic spectacle”.
Supreme Court president Lord Reed ruled that there was a risk of Rwanda returning genuine asylum seekers to face “ill treatment” in the countries they had fled.
He also made clear that the European Convention on Human Rights was not the only international treaty relevant to the court’s decision, which had also taken into account domestic law.