The Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s flagship deportations plan is unlawful in a verdict delivered this morning.
The court’s five judges unanimously backed the judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal which declared the policy was unlawful because of the risk that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their own country and face persecution in breach of their human rights.
It is a significant blow to the prime minister, who has pledged to “stop the boats” – a reference to irregular Channel crossings.
The government’s Illegal Migration Act grants ministers the power to detain arrivals and deport them to a third safe country such as Rwanda.
Responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Rishi Sunak said: “We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps.
“This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.
He added: “Crucially, the Supreme Court – like the Court of Appeal and the High Court before it – has confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful. This confirms the Government’s clear view from the outset”.
“Illegal migration destroys lives and costs British taxpayers millions of pounds a year. We need to end it and we will do whatever it takes to do so”
“Because when people know that if they come here illegally, they won’t get to stay then they will stop coming altogether, and we will stop the boats”.
Giving the court’s verdict this morning, Lord Reed pointed out that the Supreme Court is “required to decide” on the “legal question” of whether the scheme is lawful or unlawful.
He stressed that the court is “not concerned with the political debate” about the scheme.
Explaining his judgement, Lord Reed said: “There is a legal rule that refugees must not be returned to their country of origin if their lives would be threatened in that country.”
“As to the legal test which the court has to apply – the test is whether there are substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers who are sent to Rwanda will be at real risk of ill treatment as a consequence of reform”, he added.
“And if there are no such grounds, the policy is lawful, if there are such grounds, the policy is unlawful.”
Lord Reed noted Rwanda’s failure to fulfil its responsibilities with Israel under an agreement, like that to the one being proposed by the UK, on the removal of asylum seekers in 2013-18.
“Despite the terms of the agreement… asylum seekers were frequently moved to another country from which they were likely to be refouled”, he said.
The ruling comes at a moment of jeopardy for Sunak, who is facing a revolt from right-wing Conservative MPs after the sacking of Suella Braverman as home secretary.
In a scathing letter yesterday, Braverman accused the prime minister of betraying the nation by backtracking on a deal – agreed between the former home secretary and Sunak before he became PM – to ignore European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rulings.
Responding to the Court’s ruling, Halima Begum, CEO of ActionAid UK, said: “Today we breathe a huge sigh of relief as this cruel and unworkable plan receives the ultimate judgment it deserves.
“Since its very inception, legal experts and campaigners have been absolutely clear that this inhumane policy is incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations.
“The Supreme Court ruling, which follows the Court of Appeal judgment earlier this year, sees British values of compassion and dignity and the countless refugees with valid asylum claims, vindicated.”