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UK home secretary James Cleverly will on Tuesday sign a new treaty with Rwanda in an attempt to overcome the legal block on the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers to the African country.
The new treaty will aim to address the UK Supreme Court’s ruling that the Rwanda policy is unlawful and pave the way for Cleverly to introduce “emergency legislation” at Westminster to try to revive it.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously last month that asylum seekers removed to the east African country would be at real risk of being sent back to their home countries without proper assessment of their claims.
The new UK-Rwanda treaty, a legal upgrade on an existing memorandum of understanding between the two countries, will aim to address the Supreme Court’s concerns.
Cleverly, who flew to Kigali on Monday night, said: “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives.
“The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future to address the conclusions they reached — and that is what we have set out to do together, with this new, internationally recognised treaty agreement.”
But Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, dismissed the move as “simply a gimmick”.
Signing a treaty with Rwanda does not in itself revive the UK government’s troubled plan to outsource asylum seekers: it is likely to be the start of new political and legal wrangling.
Cleverly will introduce legislation in the House of Commons, possibly as early as this week, which he says will enable parliament to declare in law that Rwanda is “safe”. That assertion is expected to be challenged in the courts.
Tory MPs are also split on whether the new legislation should include a controversial “notwithstanding” clause that would disapply the UK’s international and domestic human rights obligations in relation to the Rwanda policy.
Last week, more than 20 Tory MPs wrote to Rishi Sunak, prime minister, warning they would not support such a move, which is being pushed by Robert Jenrick, immigration minister, and former home secretary Suella Braverman.
The Home Office said Cleverly would meet foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta during his visit to Kigali, where the treaty would be signed. It insisted that the principle of sending migrants to a “safe third country” was also being explored by other countries, including Austria, Italy, Germany and Denmark.
Last year, the UK and Rwanda signed what Sunak claims is a landmark “migration and economic development partnership”, which will see people arriving in Britain in small boats being relocated to Rwanda.
The UK has already paid £140mn to the Rwandan government for the scheme, most of it in development funding.
But the policy has been blocked by a series of legal challenges and is highly contentious. One cabinet minister said: “There is no chance of anyone being put a flight to Rwanda this side of an election.”
Cooper said the government was sending more home secretaries to Rwanda than asylum seekers.
“This is the third home secretary in less than two years, off to Rwanda with another cheque book, they have already spent £140mn, more spent this year, they won’t tell us how much, more promised again next year,” she told Sky News.
She added: “This failing scheme is still only going to tackle a couple of hundred people when more than 1,000 people have come in the last week because they aren’t going for the criminal gangs . . . who are making huge sums from these crossings.”