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Home Secretary James Cleverly suggested on Thursday that the UK would not have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to enforce a new plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
“I believe we can act in accordance with international law,” he told the BBC Today Program.
His comments came a day after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government’s Rwanda policy was unlawful.
In a unanimous decision, the court’s five judges said there was a real risk that asylum seekers sent to the African country would be deported to their countries of origin without their claims being properly assessed.
Following this, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to agree a new, legally binding treaty with Rwanda and said he would pass emergency legislation to legally deem the country “safe”.
Lord Jonathan Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice, told the BBC on Wednesday that the idea of alleging a fact in a statute that runs counter to the court’s decision was “deeply discreditable.”
“That won’t work internationally. “It will still be a breach of the government’s obligations under international law,” he said, adding that it was unlikely to make it through the House of Lords, where legislation is often subject to the strictest scrutiny.
Sumption deftly dismissed comments on Thursday morning, saying: “Find me two lawyers and I’ll give you three opinions.”
The new interior minister added that the government had been working with Rwanda over the past year to “strengthen” and professionalize its asylum system.
He also claimed that the government’s efforts to convert the existing memorandum of understanding with Rwanda into a legally binding treaty could happen “in a matter of days, not weeks or months.”
Sunak has made stopping small boats crossing the English Channel a key point in the public’s assessment of his performance ahead of a general election expected next year.
According to the Interior Ministry, more than 27,000 people have crossed from France on small boats so far this year, including 615 on Sunday.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said: “There are significant reasons to believe that the deportation of the applicants to Rwanda would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment due to refoulement.”
Refoulement is the forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries, where they may face persecution.
Sunak said the new treaty would stipulate that people transferred from Britain would have protection from further deportation from Rwanda and that the UK could “bring people back”.
This has led to confusion over whether people denied asylum in Rwanda would be allowed to remain in the country or ultimately sent back to the UK, putting further strain on the UK system.