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Rishi Sunak unveils law to deem Rwanda ‘safe’ for asylum seekers

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Rishi Sunak has unveiled a highly contentious “emergency” bill that deems Rwanda a “safe” country in law in an effort to revive his policy of sending migrants to the east African nation.

The bill states that the courts, immigration officers and the home secretary “must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.

The planned legislation also includes clauses to disapply the UK’s Human Rights Act and the Refugee Convention where they would apply to interpretations of Rwanda’s safety.

The text further orders that UK courts “must not have regard” to any interim decisions by the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2022 blocked the removal of an asylum seeker to Rwanda ahead of a full UK court hearing. It says decisions on whether to comply with interim decisions are the preserve of ministers.

James Cleverly, home secretary, writes in an explanatory note on the first page of the bill that he is “unable to make a statement” that the bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but he wants to proceed in any case.

The Home Office said it was “the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced to parliament” but there were early signs it would not go far enough to satisfy some Tory rightwingers.

Sunak at 5pm attempted to sell the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill at a meeting of the backbench Tory 1922 committee, while Cleverly will make a statement to MPs in the Commons at 6pm.

Sunak said: “Through this new landmark emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts.”

But a source close to Suella Braverman, former home secretary, said the bill did not “come close” to meeting her demands on the issue and that it was “fatally flawed”.

“The prime minister has kept the ability for every single illegal migrant to make individual human rights claims against their removal and to then appeal those claims if they don’t succeed at first,” the source said.

A former cabinet minister from the moderate wing of the party was satisfied that the bill, in spite of its tough language, did not mean Britain was “reneging on its international obligations”.

Another former minister from the party’s One Nation wing called the bill “a fudge” whose only redeeming feature was that it had succeeded in riling rightwing colleagues.

Lawyers will now pore over the detail of the bill, but ministers fear that Sunak’s hopes of sending migrants to Rwanda before the next general election are unlikely to be realised. “It won’t happen,” said one.

Sunak earlier on Wednesday told MPs the legislation would “address all the concerns” raised by the Supreme Court last month, when it ruled the policy was unlawful because asylum seekers would suffer ill-treatment.

The court said there was a real risk asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their home countries without proper consideration of their claims.

The Rwanda policy has split the Conservative party and the new bill is expected to face opposition in the House of Lords. Meanwhile, many lawyers expect the policy will still be challenged in the courts.

Sunak has tried to steer a middle course between MPs on the Tory right, who want Britain out of the ECHR, and moderate parliamentarians who insist Britain sticks to its international commitments.

Senior cabinet ministers including Cleverly, foreign secretary Lord David Cameron and Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, insisted Britain should honour its ECHR obligations.

Sunak told MPs on Wednesday he had “an absolute commitment to stop the boats and get flights off”, adding that the prospect of being sent to Rwanda would be an “effective deterrent” to migrants arriving by boat.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer mocked the policy as “a gimmick”.

Earlier in the day, Braverman warned that the Conservative party faced “electoral oblivion” if it did not bring forward tough legislation to allow the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

“Do we fight for sovereignty or let our party die?” she said in a personal statement to the House of Commons. “The Conservative party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill destined to fail.”

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