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Rishi Sunak considers sending lawyers to Rwanda as part of asylum deal

Home Secretary James Cleverly is widely expected to travel to Rwanda to sign a new treaty once it is finalised

Archie Mitchell
Monday 04 December 2023 11:52 GMT
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James Cleverly: Rwanda treaty can be done in days, not weeks

British lawyers could be sent to Rwandan courts as part of a new treaty Rishi Sunak hopes will finally allow the government to deport asylum seekers to the African nation.

Home Secretary James Cleverly is close to finalising a deal with Rwanda as part of Mr Sunak’s goal of making the plan legally watertight following the Supreme Court’s ruling against the scheme.

Cabinet minister Lucy Frazer said the Home Office was looking “very carefully” at the idea of sending UK Government lawyers to Rwanda to address concerns about the legal system there.

It came afterThe Daily Telegraph reported that British lawyers could be sent to advise Rwandan judges, perhaps for specific asylum case hearings or for longer periods, to help ensure asylum appeals are granted correctly, although the Kigali government is unlikely to accept any arrangement which would look like colonial-style legal interference.

James Cleverly is set to visit Rwanda to finalise a treaty with the country (PA) (PA Wire)

If a deal is reached, Mr Cleverly could head to Rwanda as soon as this week to sign the treaty, with domestic legislation also planned so the UK Parliament could assert the African nation is a safe destination for asylum seekers who arrive in Britain.

Culture Secretary Ms Frazer was pressed on whether British lawyers could be stationed in Rwanda’s courts.

She told BBC Breakfast: “There is an issue about processing and I know that the Home Office are looking at that very carefully.”

She added: “I know that the Home Secretary James Cleverly is now working with Rwanda on a new treaty, and we will be bringing forward legislation in due course.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court judgment on November 15, the Government insisted it had been working on contingency measures and promised a treaty with Rwanda within days along with emergency legislation in Parliament – but neither has yet emerged.

There has been speculation that Rwanda is pushing for more money on top of the £140 million already committed to the scheme.

The Sunday Times reported that Kigali is to be given a £15 million top-up payment to agree fresh terms on its agreement with the UK to take migrants who arrive in Britain via small boats.

Prime Minister Mr Sunak met Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai on Friday.

He declined afterwards to say how much more money he would spend to get the scheme off the ground.

The home secretary and Mr Sunak hope the upgraded treaty will be enough to address judges’ concerns about the government’s flagship migration policy.

The PM told a press briefing at Cop that he was “finalising” legislation designed to push through the Rwanda proposal, which is seen as key to delivering on his pledge to stop the boats before a likely general election next year.

He has set the target of deportation flights taking off by the spring.

As well as the new treaty with Kigali, Mr Sunak’s attempt to save the Rwanda plan involves the signing of a new treaty with Kigali and the introduction of emergency legislation ruling the country safe, despite concerns raised by senior judges.

Following the judgment by the Supreme Court, Downing Street originally said a new small boats law would be published within days but the wait has gone on for more than two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Home Office’s top official confirmed to MPs that negotiations on a Rwanda treaty were in their final stages.

Permanent Secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told the Home Affairs Select Committee that officials were in the capital Kigali putting the “finishing touches” to the talks.

Migrants have continued to brave freezing December conditions to cross the Channel.

Home Office figures show that 93 migrants travelling on two boats arrived in Britain on Friday, with more believed to have landed on Saturday.

Almost 28,500 asylum seekers have arrived in 2023 using the sea route, with the anniversary of Mr Sunak’s stop the boats pledge approaching next month.

Senior Tory Mark Francois warned Mr Sunak that he must make sure the UK can opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as part of the emergency Rwanda legislation.

The chair of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers told GB News that angry voters “want the boats stopped”. He added: “If it’s complex because of the ECHR, they expect us as legislators to work through that to come up with a solution”.

Mr Francois warned Mr Sunak: “Rishi promised to stop the boats but as [Tory deputy chairman] Lee Anderson very bluntly pointed out a few weeks ago, well, he hasn’t has he? … We’ve had two goes before. Now it’s three strikes and you’re out”.

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