Rwanda Bill incompatible with UK’s human rights obligations, MPs and peers warn
Rishi Sunak’s legislation aimed at reviving the stalled deportation plan risks damaging the UK’s reputation for human rights, according to a report.
Rishi Sunak’s proposed Rwanda asylum law is “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations and would flout international law, MPs and peers have warned.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said the Government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill “risks untold damage” to the UK’s hard-won reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.
The controversial draft legislation and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled deportation scheme after a Supreme Court ruling against the plan.
By compelling judges to regard Rwanda as safe, ministers want to be able to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to the east African country.
But the crossbench committee of MPs and Lords said they had heard evidence that the problems identified by the Supreme Court could not be resolved so quickly.
The panel said in a report: “We are not persuaded that Parliament can be confident that Rwanda is now safe. In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.”
The Bill, which is going through Parliament, seeks to severely limit asylum seekers’ ability to appeal against being put on a flight to Kigali.
While they can try to claim Rwanda is not safe for them as an individual, they cannot argue that it is generally unsafe or that they are at risk of being transferred to a third country where they could be in danger.
The committee said this makes the Bill incompatible with the UK’s international obligations, most obviously Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to an effective remedy.
The legislation also says it is up to ministers to decide whether to comply with interim rulings issued by judges at the European Court of Human Rights, and therefore “openly invites the possibility of the UK breaching international law”, according to the report.
A so-called Rule 39 interim measure – branded a “pyjama injunction” because it can be issued outside normal court hours – contributed to the grounding in 2022 of the first flight that was set to carry asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Joint committee chairwoman Joanna Cherry said: “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.
“This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself. By taking this approach, the Bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.
“Human rights aren’t inconvenient barriers that must be overcome to reach policy goals, they are fundamental protections that ensure individuals are not harmed by Government action. If a policy is sound it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”
The Prime Minister’s Safety of Rwanda Bill passed the Commons after the Prime Minister saw off a Tory rebellion which had sought to toughen the legislation.
It cleared its first major hurdle in the House of Lords last month, but faces numerous amendments in the upper chamber and an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords.
Mr Sunak has urged peers not to block “the will of the people” by opposing the Bill as he faces an election year having made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership.
The Lords begin detailed examination of the Bill in committee stage on Monday.
The asylum scheme comes with a £290 million bill but a series of legal challenges has meant no flights have taken off since it was proposed in 2022.
Under the plan, people who cross the Channel in small boats could be removed to Rwanda rather than being allowed to seek asylum in the UK.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is doing just that.
“The Bill we have introduced, and the treaty alongside it, are the best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible.
“Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”