Britain’s Supreme Court delivered a significant blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, ruling the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as unlawful. This decision, just ahead of an anticipated election next year, rattles Sunak’s immigration policy.
The proposed strategy aimed to relocate tens of thousands of asylum seekers, who arrived in the UK without permission to Rwanda. The objective was to discourage migrants from crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.
However, the top court unanimously declared the plan invalid, emphasising that Rwanda couldn’t be deemed a safe third country for migrants.
Sunak’s immigration policy heavily relied on the Rwanda scheme, addressing concerns among some voters regarding the influx of asylum seekers arriving in small boats.
The verdict triggered strong reactions from right-wing lawmakers in Sunak’s party, some suggesting the government should consider withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite this, the court clarified that its decision considered various laws and treaties, not solely the Convention.
The ruling gained added political significance after Sunak dismissed Interior Minister Suella Braverman, whose responsibilities included immigration affairs. Braverman criticised Sunak for breaking promises on immigration, accusing him of betraying the British people.
Responding to the ruling, Sunak affirmed the government’s commitment to curb illegal migration, citing its detrimental effects on lives and taxpayer money. He vowed to take the necessary actions to halt such migration.
However, Sunak, trailing in opinion polls by approximately 20 points, faced criticism for failing to fulfil his promise to “stop the boats.” The southern English coast witnessed over 27,000 arrivals without permission this year, following a record 45,755 detections in 2022.
The Supreme Court’s decision garnered widespread support from critics who deemed the policy flawed, immoral, and ineffective, including opposition lawmakers, some Conservatives, church leaders, and the United Nations refugee agency.
President Robert Reed emphasised concerns about the risk of asylum seekers facing ill-treatment if sent to Rwanda, terming the judgment a “victory for humanity.” Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais, hailed the ruling as a triumph against an “unlawful, cruel, and immoral” cash-for-people deal.
While deeming the Rwanda policy unlawful, Reed hinted at potential future revisions to mitigate the risk of refoulement. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Rwandan government contested the conclusion that Rwanda was deemed unsafe for asylum seekers.