Judges now have “no reason” to block Britain’s new asylum deal with Rwanda, James Cleverly has insisted.
The Home Secretary said we must be allowed to “move quickly” to start deportation flights after signing a beefed-up treaty with the African nation.
“I can see no reason why that should not happen,” he said, raising hopes the scheme will be up and running by the spring.
Rishi Sunak has insisted the new tie-up will prevent “domestic blockers” and foreign courts from thwarting the plan. He says it will halt illegal migration across the English Channel, saving taxpayers billions of pounds.
Hailing the landmark treaty, Mr Sunak added: “I said I would stop the boats. I meant it. “We’ve signed a treaty with Rwanda making it clear that it’s us who decides who comes to this country – not criminal gangs.
But the Prime Minister is still facing a backbench rebellion over the new legislation – due within days – designed to avoid the scheme being thwarted by the courts again.
The original £140million scheme was signed almost 18 months ago and not a single deportee has yet left UK soil by air. It was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court last month, which said that Rwanda was not a safe country as those flown there could be sent back to their country of origin.
Mr Cleverly said he “cannot see any credible reason” to question the nation now after he signed the treaty in Kigali. He insisted the UK has not paid any more money to Rwanda in addition to the money already handed over.
But a fierce battle is raging within the Tory party over the next stage of Mr Sunak’s plan to get the scheme off the ground.
Right-wing Conservatives are pushing the Prime Minister to use new legislation to opt out of the European Convention on HumanRights (ECHR) – warning he must go for the “full fat” version to get around judges.
Around 35 MPs in the New Conservatives group met others on the right, including the Common Sense Group and European Research Group, last night to discuss whether to vote against Mr Sunak’s legislation if it is not tough enough.
Backbench MP Tom Hunt, a member of the New Conservatives group, said: “We need the full-fat option.
“We need it to be explicit that our Parliament is sovereign and reigns supreme. Not foreign courts and outdated conventions.” But senior Tory moderates are also warning Mr Sunak they may not support his legislation if he does ditch the ECHR – arguing that it would be “a mistake” that doesn’t have public support.
Damian Green, the chairman of the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs, said: “The UK has for generations been a world leader on human rights. We have set the standard on what a law-abiding, well-functioning democracy should look like. The Government should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and HRA and not rush such long-term, difficult decisions.”
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The Daily Express understands there is also disharmony in the government, with new Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk among those insisting the UK remains in the ECHR.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is believed to want to take a more hardline approach and is pushing for the “toughest possible Bill” according to sources. Mr Cleverly is the third Home Secretary to travel to Rwanda since Priti Patel signed the initial deal last April. His predecessor, Suella Braverman, visited Kigali earlier this year.
His whistle-stop visit to the East African nation came a day after he unveiled a tough new crackdown to slash UK immigration by 300,000.
Speaking in the Rwandan capital, he said: “We want to see this part of our wider migration plan up and running as quickly as possible.
“We feel very strongly that this treaty addresses all of the issues raised by their lordships in the Supreme Court and we have worked very closely with our Rwandan partners to ensure that it does so.”
Mr Cleverly added: “I really hope that we can now move quickly.”
Last month the UK’s top court blocked the policy over concerns that genuine refugees could be wrongly sent back to their countries of origin where they would face persecution.
In an attempt to rectify this, the new treaty means British and Commonwealth judges will preside over a newly-established appeals process within Rwanda’s high court for exceptional cases.
Another key measure is a commitment that no one will be removed by Rwanda to any other country other than to the UK. After signing the deal with Mr Cleverly, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta expressed his frustration at the judgement by some of the UK’s top justices.
He suggested “internal UK politics” may have played a role and said his country has been “unfairly treated” by the courts, international organisations and the media.
Mr Sunak met Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai on Friday as part of the push to finalise the deal.
Speaking in Dubai he said: “I want the next stage of this is for us to bring forward legislation to make it unequivocally clear, and Parliament will be able to confirm that, that Rwanda is safe for the purpose of operationalising this scheme and thereby making sure there are no more domestic blockers to the proper functioning of this scheme.
“I will not let a foreign court stop us from getting a flight off.”
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