Rishi Sunak promised to end the legal “merry-go-round” over the Rwanda asylum policy as he acknowledged voters’ patience was wearing thin at the Government’s inability to get flights in the air.
The Prime Minister said he would do “what is necessary” to get the scheme off the ground amid reports of a Cabinet split over plans to override human rights laws.
The Government has promised a new treaty and emergency legislation to ensure the plan is legally watertight following a Supreme Court ruling against it last week.
But the promised new treaty with the African nation appears unlikely to be ratified before the new year and The Times reported that the domestic laws have run into Cabinet opposition.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is pushing for the legislation to disapply the Human Rights Act and direct courts to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in asylum cases, but he is said to have faced opposition from Home Secretary James Cleverly, Attorney General Victoria Prentis and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk.
Asked about the report following a speech in London, Mr Sunak said: “I’m completely committed to doing what is necessary to get those flights off and that scheme up and running.
“Because we have prepared for all circumstances we have been working on a new treaty with Rwanda that will address all the concerns that were raised by the Supreme Court, and we will combine that with new emergency legislation that will make it crystal clear – and give Parliament the opportunity to confirm – that Rwanda for all of these purposes is a safe place to implement our scheme.
“And I won’t let a foreign court stop us from getting flights off to Rwanda.
“This is a reasonable country. This is a reasonable government.
“But people’s patience has run thin and we have got to end this merry-go-round. And that is what I am determined to do.”
It was the UK Supreme Court, rather than “a foreign court”, which dealt the latest blow to the Government’s hopes of sending asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
But the Tories are keen to ensure that the ECHR and the Strasbourg court which rules on it will not prevent the policy – which was first announced in 2020 – from being implemented.
Mr Sunak has pinned his hopes on a new legally binding pact with Kigali alongside emergency legislation after the Supreme Court ruled the policy unlawful on November 15.
Downing Street had said in the hours after the defeat that the deal would be laid before Parliament in the “coming days” so removal flights can take off “as soon as possible”.
But Whitehall sources said the treaty is not expected to be published until some time after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt details his set-piece financial announcement on Wednesday.
With the Commons due to rise for its Christmas recess on December 19, there are not enough sitting days to ratify the treaty before the new year under the current schedule, with No 10 saying at least 21 are legally required.
The source did not expect any problems getting Kigali to sign off on the treaty, believing that the emergency legislation is the greater challenge.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is just further chaos from the Conservatives. Further delay to a plan which has already failed.
“This is yet more hot air, rhetoric and chaos from a Tory party clearly unable to stop the criminal gangs or deliver their promise on small boats.”