Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Home secretary James Cleverly suggested on Thursday that the UK would not have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to force through a new plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda.
“I believe we can act in accordance with international law,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
His comments came a day after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government’s Rwanda policy was unlawful.
In a unanimous decision, the court’s five judges said there was a real risk that asylum seekers sent to the African nation would be removed to their countries of origin without proper consideration of their claims.
In the wake of the ruling Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to agree a new, legally binding treaty with Rwanda, and said he would pass emergency legislation to deem the country “safe” in law.
Lord Jonathan Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, told the BBC on Wednesday that the idea of asserting a fact in legislation that runs counter to the determination of the court was “profoundly discreditable”.
“It won’t work internationally. It will still be a breach of the government’s international law obligations,” he said, adding that it was unlikely to get through the House of Lords, where legislation often came under the most robust scrutiny.
Cleverly dismissed Sumption’s comments on Thursday morning and said “find me two lawyers and I’ll show you three opinions”.
The new home secretary added that the government had spent the past year working with Rwanda to “beef up” and professionalise its asylum system.
He also claimed the government’s efforts to transform the existing memorandum of understanding with Rwanda into a legally binding treaty could be done “in a matter of days, not weeks or months”.
Sunak has made stopping small boat crossings of the Channel a central pillar of how the public should judge his performance ahead of a general election expected next year.
This year more than 27,000 people have so far crossed from France on small boats, including 615 on Sunday, according to Home Office figures.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court said: “There are substantial grounds for believing that the removal of the claimants to Rwanda would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement.”
Refoulement is the forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries where they are likely to face persecution.
Sunak said the new treaty would state that people transferred from Britain would have protections against further removal from Rwanda, and the UK could “bring people back”.
This has led to confusion about whether people denied asylum in Rwanda would be granted some form of leave to remain in the country or would be ultimately sent back to the UK, creating a further burden on the British system.