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Sunak still mulling options to get Rwanda flights in air

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference in Downing Street, London, in response to the Supreme Court ruling that the Rwanda asylum policy is unlawful. The PM has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop small boat crossings after the Supreme Court ruled on his flagship policy of removing asylum seekers on expulsion flights to Kigali. Picture date: Wednesday November 15, 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference in Downing Street, London, in response to the Supreme Court ruling that the Rwanda asylum policy is unlawful. The PM has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop small boat crossings after the Supreme Court ruled on his flagship policy of removing asylum seekers on expulsion flights to Kigali. Picture date: Wednesday November 15, 2023.

Rishi Sunak is still considering how to ensure his Rwanda plan is legally watertight following reports Government lawyers warned that attempting to opt out of international rights treaties could delay flights.

The Government had promised a treaty with Rwanda and emergency legislation in Parliament after the Supreme Court ruled against the plan to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to the African nation.

No 10 had said in the hours after the November 15 Supreme Court defeat that the treaty would be laid before Parliament in the “coming days” so deportation flights could take off “as soon as possible”.

Alongside the new treaty with Rwanda, domestic legislation was planned to ensure that flights could take off without further legal challenges.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said policy options were still being considered.

Suella Braverman
Former home Secretary Suella Braverman has been critical of the Prime Minister’s handling of the migrant crisis (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Government still hopes the first flights carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda will take off by the spring.

Mr Sunak has been urged, including by sacked home secretary Suella Braverman, to adopt tough legislation that includes “notwithstanding” clauses that can prevent judges from applying protections in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to asylum cases.

But The Times reported that the Government has received advice from its lawyers that says instructing the courts to ignore the ECHR risks opening up more avenues for migrants to challenge the legality of deportation flights, on the basis that it would breach Britain’s convention obligations.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous Government source as saying: “If we take the Supreme Court’s ruling at face value and play a straight bat, that will be the quickest way of getting flights off the ground, instead of starting a big fight that may invite more challenges.”

The legal advice from Government lawyers is said to have been discussed at a meeting on Saturday between the Prime Minister, Home Secretary James Cleverly, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk and Attorney General Victoria Prentis.

The PA news agency understands the purpose of the meeting was to run through multiple options for the emergency legislation that Downing Street has promised in a bid to break the legal logjam preventing deportation flights from taking off.

James Cleverly
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he would not ‘prejudge’ what would be in the emergency Rwanda legislation (Yui Mok/PA)

Downing Street said it was “not unusual” under Mr Sunak for meetings to be held at the weekend, but no decisions have yet been made on how to proceed.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “As the Prime Minister has said, we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats and there are policy discussions ongoing about how we meet that objective.

“We remain focused on making the Rwanda plan operational as swiftly as possible and addressing all the concerns of the Supreme Court.”

The spokesman said the “precise form of the legislation and the devices used are still being discussed”, and “no final decisions have been taken”.