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8 Dec, 2023 10:24

UK minister resigns over Rwanda immigration bill

Robert Jenrick has stepped down over his opposition to the government’s controversial policy
UK minister resigns over Rwanda immigration bill

British Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned on Wednesday, citing disagreements with the government’s draft emergency legislation aimed at deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Jenrick claimed that the proposed Safety of Rwanda Bill, published on the same day he announced his resignation, did “not go far enough” in allowing the government to override international human rights laws.

A bill of the kind you are proposing is a triumph of hope over experience,” Jenrick said in a resignation letter posted on X (formerly Twitter).

He further claimed that the government’s emergency legislation was “the last opportunity” for the UK to “stop the boats altogether,” referring to illegal migrant crossings across the English Channel.

The draft legislation, released a day after Britain signed a new treaty with Rwanda, aims to overcome a court decision that blocked the government’s plans to send thousands of asylum seekers to the East African country.

The Home Office said the legislation addresses the concerns of London’s Supreme Court, which ruled last month that the UK-Rwanda asylum policy violated international human rights law. The court had claimed that people sent to Rwanda would face a “real risk” of being returned to their home country, regardless of whether their requests for asylum were legitimate or not.

The new draft legislation makes it “clear that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers, and that people who have come to the UK illegally can be removed there swiftly. This will build on the legally binding treaty signed by the UK and Rwanda,” according to the Home Office.

The bill seeks to order judges to ignore certain sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and provisions of British or international law that might render Rwanda an unsafe country for the deportation of illegal immigrants. It allows ministers to disregard emergency orders from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to temporarily halt a flight to Rwanda during the hearing of individual cases, but stops short of granting powers to dismiss the entire European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Some Tory MPs, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, had called for the bill to override the entire HRA.

Jenrick, who has been immigration minister since October last year, stated in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that the legislation needed to go further to limit the ability of UK and international courts to challenge the policy.

The government has a responsibility to place our vital national interests above highly contested interpretations of international law,” he said.

I am unable to take the currently proposed legislation through the Commons as I do not believe it provides us with the best possible chance of success,” Jenrick added.

The Rwanda scheme, Sunak’s trademark immigration policy, is part of a broader strategy to address voter concerns about the volume of asylum seekers arriving on British shores ahead of an election next year. Sunak’s Conservative Party has been in power for 13 years and is trailing by about 20% in opinion polls.

The British government signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday, replacing a non-binding memorandum of understanding and prohibiting the African nation from deporting asylum seekers to a third country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

The British government has paid Rwanda at least £140 million ($175 million) as part of the plan.