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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nicholas Cecil

New Rwanda legislation will be 'legally watertight', minister says after treaty signing

The Government said on Wednesday it will do “whatever is necessary" to ensure emergency legislation designed to salvage its flagship Rwanda deportation plan is safe from legal challenge.

Home Office minister Chris Philp said the new law would be published in "days not weeks", following a new treaty signed with Rwanda in light of a major setback for the UK Government in the Supreme Court.

He said the plan would be cheaper than the £4 billion a year spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels in the UK and would have a “deterrent effect” similar to an offshoring policy enacted in Australia.

"We've seen it work in other countries like Australia, and the bill will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the sovereign will of Parliament, a democratically elected Parliament, prevails, that this is legally watertight," Mr Philp told Times Radio.

He added that a “very, very small number” of refugees in Rwanda could be accepted by the UK under the terms of the agreement, stressing: “That won’t happen until this whole arrangement gets operationalised.”

Rishi Sunak is under pressure from all wings of his party as Tory MPs await the promised Rwanda legislation set to accompany the newly signed treaty with Kigali, which was intended to address the concerns that saw the Supreme Court deem the Government’s flagship asylum policy unlawful.

But the bill's likely contents have already divided Tory MPs, with fears that too radical an approach could prompt ministerial resignations.

Centrist MPs have pushed the Prime Minister to respect the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other international obligations, but right-wingers want him to take a hardline stance on the role of the European Court of Human Rights and human rights law to get flights off the ground as soon as possible.

According to The Times, Mr Sunak has rejected calls for the UK to opt out of or exclude the ECHR in asylum cases but may be considering disapplying parts of the Human Rights Act – which gives domestic legal effect to the ECHR – to prevent court challenges to deportation flights.

Members of the right-wing European Research Group (ERG), as well as MPs from the Common Sense and New Conservative groupings, met in Parliament on Tuesday hours after Home Secretary James Cleverly celebrated the treaty agreement in Kigali.

The UK’s top court last month blocked the Rwanda policy over concerns that genuine refugees could be wrongly sent back to their countries of origin where they would face persecution.

In an attempt to rectify this, the new treaty means British and Commonwealth judges will preside over a newly established appeals process within Rwanda’s high court for exceptional cases.

Another key measure is a commitment that no-one will be removed by Rwanda to any other country except the UK.

Experts from the UK will also be seconded to Rwanda to assist with the processing of asylum decisions.

People sent to Rwanda will have free legal assistance funded by the taxpayer throughout the process.

Mr Cleverly said no new money was directly connected to the document after disputed reports of a £15 million top-up payment, but did not rule out additional costs in the future.

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