The government’s Rwanda bill is “fundamentally incompatible” with human rights law, MPs and peers have warned.
A report from parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, published on Monday, said the proposed legislation “risks untold damage” to the UK’s reputation as an international leader on the issue.
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Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy to “stop the boats” would result in asylum seekers coming to the UK via Channel crossings being deported to the African nation.
But his plan has been dogged with delays and controversy, from splitting the Conservative Party over those who want to toughen or scale back the plan, to condemnation from charities and opposition parties.
It was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court at the end of last year. However, the government has been determined to push ahead, signing a new treaty with Rwanda and adjusting the legislation to define the nation as a “safe country”.
The bill has passed its first parliamentary stage in the House of Commons, but will be heading to the Lords this afternoon, where it is expected to face fierce criticism from peers.
In the committee report, the membership took particular issue with plans to limit appeals against deportations, saying it breached the UK’s legal obligations – most obviously Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to an effective remedy.
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They also attacked the move to allow ministers to decide whether or not to adhere to rulings of the European Court of Human Rights over deportations, saying the measure “openly invites the possibility of the UK breaching international law”.
And they said they were “not persuaded” parliament could be “confident” in naming Rwanda as a safe country, adding: “We consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.”
Chair of the joint committee, the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, said: “This bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.
“This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself. By taking this approach, the bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.
“Human rights aren’t inconvenient barriers that must be overcome to reach policy goals, they are fundamental protections that ensure individuals are not harmed by government action. If a policy is sound it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”
But the government continues to stand by the bill, with a Home Office spokesperson saying: “We are committed to tackling this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is doing just that.
“The bill we have introduced, and the treaty alongside it, are the best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible.
“Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”