The home secretary will be able to exercise her “discretion” when weighing up whether to follow European court orders on deportations, a government minister has confirmed.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said amendments to the government’s Illegal Migration Bill would give Suella Braverman the ability to consider the “timeliness” of interventions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) when it comes to deportations of asylum seekers.
But he claimed it would not give the government a “carte blanche” to disobey European court rulings.
The move comes after ministers previously expressed frustration that no flights had been able to take off under its Rwanda deportation policy owing to last-minute interventions from the ECHR.
Mr Dowden told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “The home secretary will be given a discretion and ability to look at the circumstances of that order [section or rule 39) from the European Court of Human Rights and will, for example, cover factors such as the timeliness of the imposition of the order.
“So, for example, if it is done at last minute – and also the transparency of it.”
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Pressed on whether the amendments would allow the Home Office to ignore Strasbourg rulings, Mr Dowden added: “There will be a Section 39 discretion.
“Now, I’m not saying that will give the home secretary carte blanche to overrule rulings. What I would say is that we are engaging very closely with the European court, we are making very good progress.
“I think it is right that the home secretary should have a discretion, so, for example, we don’t have this situation where at the very last minute an order is imposed. Those are the kind of factors the home secretary will be able to consider.”
The first deportation flight to Rwanda was grounded last June following an eleventh-hour intervention by the ECHR, using an interim injunction known as a Rule 39 order.
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Last month Ms Braverman said she had been “encouraged” by “constructive” discussions with the ECHR about the injunction that halted migrant flights to Rwanda – something the government sees as barrier to getting flights off the ground.
There were reports over the weekend that Rishi Sunak reached a deal on the amendments with MPs on the right of his party who had threatened to rebel if he did not toughen up the bill.
There has also been an agreement to offer more safe and legal routes to appease the more liberal wing of the party, but Mr Dowden could not give a specific timeline when pressed by Sophy Ridge.
He suggested the routes could only be opened once the small boats crisis in the Channel had been stopped.
“What comes first is making sure that we get control of our borders and we stop this vile trafficking of people across the English channel,” he said.
“Once we get control of that, stop the boats, then we will have more capacity to be able to extend our kindness and generosity as a nation.”
The Illegal Migration Bill is aimed at changing the law to make it clear people arriving in the UK illegally via small boat will not be able to remain in the country.
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They will either be sent to their home country or to a nation like Rwanda, which struck a deal with the UK a year ago to accommodate some of asylum seekers arriving in the UK.
Charities and human rights groups have strongly criticised the legislation, with the UN Refugee Agency warning that it risks making the UK fall short of its international obligations.
The Labour Party has also dismissed the legislation as unworkable and today criticised the plans to give the government powers to reject European court rulings in some circumstances.
Asked if Labour believes it is acceptable for European courts to overrule decisions made in the UK, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “We should always follow the law. We should not be acting outside of the law.
“The point is that scheme is not working, quite self-evidently because the home secretary has sent more journalists to Rwanda.
“We should use the resources that have been ploughed into that scheme to invest in a specialist crime agency to really go after these criminal people-trafficking gangs.”