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‘A dangerous precedent’

Sunak accused of seeking to put ‘government above the rule of law’ with Rwanda Bill

RISHI SUNAK’S proposed Rwanda asylum legislation sets a dangerous precedent by seeking to put the government above the rule of law, campaigners said today. 

The warning came as Parliament’s joint committee on human rights cautioned that the Bill would violate international law and was “fundamentally incompatible” with Britain’s human rights obligations.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill aims to prevent legal challenges to the deportation scheme, following a Supreme Court ruling against the plan, by severely limiting asylum-seekers’ right of appeal against being put on a flight.

Under the proposed legislation, judges would be compelled to regard Rwanda as a safe country, thereby limiting asylum-seekers’ ability to contest their deportation on that basis.

But the committee of MPs and peers said that it was “not persuaded” that Rwanda was safe.

“In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact,” it added.

The committee condemned the Bill as incompatible with international law, including article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the right to an effective remedy, which rules that individuals must have access to justice and an impartial tribunal. 

Chairwoman 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.

“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,” the SNP MP insisted.

“If a policy is sound, it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”

Ministers’ plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda was blocked by the Supreme Court last November, after 18 months of legal battles. 

The scheme to deport people who arrive in Britain by crossing the Channel in small boats was left in tatters, dealing a blow to Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats.”

The Lords began a detailed examination of the scheme’s latest iteration at committee stage today, with both Tory and Labour peers warning that the Bill could set dangerous precedents for the government.

Labour’s Baroness Shami Chakrabarti suggested that the legislation “threatens both the domestic rule of law, especially the separation of powers, and the international rules-based order.”

Similar concerns were raised by campaigners.

Migrants’ Rights Network chief executive Fizza Qureshi said the scheme “sets a worrying precedent in UK legislation,” adding: “The UK government is intent on overriding its human rights and refugee protection obligations. 

“It clearly shows the government is prepared to overhaul the judicial system in order to push through cruel policies.”

Human Rights Watch UK advocacy and communications officer Dr Emilie McDonnell echoed that view, saying that the Bill “sets a dangerous precedent that seeks to place the government above the rule of law.”

“Instructing courts to ignore evidence of Rwanda’s dire human rights record and rubber-stamp removals to Rwanda risks putting people in danger,” she said.

“The UK government must withdraw the Bill and abandon its cruel, costly and unlawful scheme.”

Amnesty International UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: “The government is attempting to declare Rwanda safe as a matter of law simply because it says so — an abuse of law one would expect from an authoritarian regime.

“Human rights are not fair-weather concepts for a government to simply abandon at its convenience.  

“This Bill threatens the entire global system of rights and protections and makes us all significantly less safe.”

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