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Government to take Rwanda ruling to Supreme Court

British Supreme Court
29 June 2023
Public Affairs

In a huge blow to the Prime Minister’s ambitions to tackle illegal crossings, campaigners and asylum seekers won a Court of Appeal challenge over the government’s Rwanda deportation scheme earlier today.  

In the latest verdict over the government’s illegal immigration plans, the three Court of Appeal judges agreed by a majority of two to one to overturn a High Court ruling which previously found the government’s deportation plans to be lawful. 

Announcing the decision, Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, told the court that “until the deficiencies in the [Rwanda] asylum process are corrected, removal of asylum seekers will be unlawful”. The judge further explained that there were “substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they face persecution or other inhumane treatment”. 

The controversial policy has come under a lot of pressure ever since it was announced in April 2022. Just this week, the government suffered a number of defeats to the Illegal Migration Bill – which will facilitate the Rwanda Policy – in the House of Lords. Peers voted to prevent new deportation powers being backdated to March of this year, while they also added safeguards aimed at protecting modern slavery victims and unaccompanied child migrants.  

This week has also seen fierce criticism over the cost of the scheme.  According to the economic assessment of the Illegal Migration Bill, it was estimated that it would cost £169,000 per person to send illegal immigrants to countries such as Rwanda. When broken down, the costs included: an estimated £105,000 provided to the Rwandan authorities, £19,000 to meet the cost incurred by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, and £22,000 to cover the flights. Speaking about the assessment, Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, labelled the government “clueless” as she criticised them for their lack of  understanding of the impact of their policies.   

Following the court’s decision earlier today, many praised the outcome. Tony Muman, a lawyer representing an asylum seeker who was one of the appellants, described the ruling as a “big victory”, while former Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas MP, said it was “excellent news” and “time for an asylum policy which treats people with respect and dignity”. 

Despite the latest legal setback, the government seems intent on seeing the policy through, as Rishi Sunak announced that the government will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. In a statement, he asserted his disapproval of the ruling and argued that Rwanda is a safe country. A spokesperson for the Rwandan Government also insisted that it was “one of the safest countries in the world”, noting how it had been recognised for its “exemplary treatment of refugees”.  

For Sunak, “stopping the boats” is arguably one of the most important of the five priorities that he set out at the start the year. In 2022, 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel, the highest number since figures began to be collected in 2018, and a recent poll by Public First found that “stopping the boats” is the second biggest concern among 2019 Conservative voters.  

Today’s decision will almost certainly push back the government’s original plans of flights jetting off to Rwanda this summer and raise further questions as to whether the Prime Minister can achieve the pledges that many saw as crucial in convincing the public that the Conservatives can still be trusted to run the country at the next general election. With pressure already mounting on inflation not falling   

With the next legal challenge set for the Supreme Court, it appears this will be the final chance Sunak has to tick off one of his five pledges. If the government loses, the Home Secretary’s self-confessed dream of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda may never turn into a reality.