Picture by Home Office / Flickr

Cleverly claims blocked Rwanda scheme ‘already having effect’ on Channel crossings

The government flagship deportations scheme, which was yesterday ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, is “already having” a deterrent effect on small boats crossings, the home secretary claimed this morning. 

James Cleverly said the Rwanda policy is already having an “effect in the thinking of the people smugglers”.

He added: “We know — we interview people when they get here — we know that the Rwanda scheme is talked about among the people smugglers and about the people who would put their lives and money in the hands of these people smugglers.”

Speaking to Sky News this morning, the new home secretary, who entered the role on Monday, confirmed it is the government’s plan to introduce a legally-binding treaty with Rwanda as a way of addressing the issues raised by the Supreme Court.

In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Cleverly told MPs that the government intends to “upgrade” its agreement with Rwanda to a treaty “as soon as possible”.

Pressed on a timescale this morning, the home secretary said the treaty could be ready in a matter of days.

Cleverly also said he had “detected some very lazy attitudes” about Rwanda because it is an African country.

And asked whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, the home secretary responded: “We don’t think we’re going to need to”.

He also told Times Radio: “Our preferred option is, of course, is to remain in the ECHR. Their lordships [the judges] made the point that there are a number of international treaties which are relevant in this instance”.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court 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.

Giving the court’s verdict yesterday, 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.”

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.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Rishi Sunak issued a statement, saying: “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”.

In a press conference yesterday, the prime minister said he did “not agree with the decision” of the Supreme Court, but that he “respects” and “accepts” it.

He said that the UK has been working on a new treaty with Rwanda to prevent people being deported after being removed there from the UK.

He also announced that the government will introduce “emergency legislation” to confirm that Rwanda is safe.

Turning to the European Court of Human Rights, Sunak said: “If the Strasbourg court chooses to intervene against the express wishes of parliament, I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off”.

He declared: “I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights”.

Questioned by reporters, the prime minister confirmed the government’s stated position that flights to Rwanda should take off by Spring. 

“We will clear the remaining barriers and flights will be heading off in the spring as planned”, he said. 

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