Yesterday, five judges at the Supreme Court upheld an appeal against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan to send migrants crossing the channel to Rwanda. The appeal has undermined one of Sunak’s first promises as Prime Minister to ‘stop the boats’. 

The court’s five judges unanimously backed a judgement by the Court of Appeal that the policy was unlawful because of the “real risk” that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their own country where they could face “ill treatment” in breach of their human rights.

This news comes only a day after Sunak dismissed Suella Braverman, one of the most vocal advocates of the policy, from her role as Home Secretary. Braverman, in response, released a bitter resignation letter pointing the finger at Sunak as the cause for failures by his government, particularly in respect of pledges given on migration.

She revealed that Sunak had made a number of promises in return for her accepting a position in his cabinet. These included reducing legal migration, introducing a ‘notwithstanding clause’ to prevent boats which would circumvent the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), delivering the Northern Ireland protocol and creating ‘biological sex’ safe spaces in school. Braverman makes it clear in her letter that she lays the fault for failing on these policies at Sunak’s feet:

 ‘You have manifestly and repeatedly failed to deliver on every single one of these key policies. Either your distinctive style of government means you are incapable of doing so. Or, as I must surely conclude now, you never had any intention of keeping your promises.’

This was the second time that she has been sacked from the post of Home Secretary. Liz Truss also sacked Braverman for breaching the Ministerial Code, during her brief tenure as Prime Minister in October 2022. Her re-appointment under Sunak was, understandably, met with strong criticism.

Sunak has met with other Tory ministers to discuss the Supreme Court ruling, with rumours circulating that there may be a call by conservatives to leave the ECHR. Withdrawing from the ECHR would almost certainly mean that the UK would be expelled from the Council of Europe. (CoE). This is not the same as the EU. It has 46 members and the only two European countries excluded at present are Russia and Belarus.

The Rwanda plan, despite falling under Sunak’s rule, was announced by his predecessor Boris Johnson in April 2022. Sunak’s government has continued to back Johnson’s plan with enthusiasm, with none so vocally supportive as Suella Braverman: 

‘I would love to have a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, that’s my dream, it’s my obsession.’

The initial announcement on Rwanda was met with criticism by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who opposed the plan which it called a scheme ‘to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards’. This was soon followed by Rwanda stating that it could not take the thousands of refugees the government planned to send. At most it would accept 300 per year. 

Later failures occurred when the first flight to Rwanda, announced on May 15th last year, was foiled by an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which rules on breaches of the ECHR.

Whilst Braverman’s departure and Sunak’s failure at the Supreme Court are victories for those campaigning on behalf of those seeking sanctuary in the UK, the safety of migrants is far from secure. Under the Conservatives, misinformation and bigotry surrounding migrants has reached an all-time high, and with nearly thirty-thousand migrants having moved to the UK this year, their safety is anything but guaranteed. What is needed is a change in narrative, as noted by author and migrant himself, Philipe Legraine. 

‘…the weight of evidence suggests the impact of immigration is mostly positive, ignorance, misinformation, misinterpretation and prejudice all create negative misperceptions that need to be addressed.’

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