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19 December 2022

The Rwanda deal has been ruled lawful – but it’s bad news for this government

The Home Secretary would have to examine each asylum seeker’s case, defeating the point of the scheme.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The government’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda who arrive in the UK via “irregular” routes has been ruled lawful.

After a number of charities, trade unions and individuals challenged the scheme, the High Court has ruled that it is legal for the government to send people to Rwanda. While this appears to be a blow to refugee rights groups, in reality it’s a trickier outcome for the government. The High Court also found that the Home Secretary has to consider the individual circumstances of each of the eight asylum seekers already due to be deported there.

The effect of the ruling, then, is that each person’s case must be considered by the Home Office before they’re earmarked for Rwanda – undermining the point of the deal, which is to deport first and process later. The policy as it was intended ultimately remains unworkable.

This makes it very unlikely that Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, will achieve her “dream” of planes full of people who have just tumbled off a boat from the Channel taking off to Kigali. Even if the Home Office’s lawyers successfully show that once in a while someone’s asylum claim can be lawfully processed in Rwanda, this is not going to happen en masse.

That the High Court has given the policy legitimacy also makes it harder for the government to blame its failure – not a single person has been sent to Rwanda, despite £140m being spent on a deal struck eight months ago – on the lefty legal blob.

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Yet the real issue here is that when Britain left the European Union, it did not negotiate a successor scheme to the Dublin treaty. This is the regulation whereby asylum seekers in the EU are sent back to the first safe country they arrived in. Although there are problems with the practicality and morality of this system too, it means asylum seekers trying to settle in places such as Germany or the Netherlands can be returned to Greece or Spain.

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Migrants unwilling to live in southern European countries that are perceived as less prosperous and welcoming look to the UK. Britain since Brexit, in the words of one person I spoke to who recently crossed the Channel, has therefore become a “second chance at Europe”. No manner of breakthrough in the Rwanda plan will stop people taking that chance.

The Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the “migration partnership with Rwanda will provide individuals relocated with support to build new lives there, while disrupting the business model of people smuggling gangs putting lives at risk through dangerous and illegal small boat crossings. We have always maintained that this policy is lawful and today the Court has upheld this. I am committed to making this partnership work – my focus remains on moving ahead with the policy as soon as possible and we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge.”

[See also: Will the Tories ever resolve their internal battle on immigration?]