As an ex-Home Secretary we must back Rwanda bill – and stop civil servants grounding planes

As an ex-Home Secretary we must back Rwanda bill – and stop civil servants grounding planes

Published: 16th January 2024 - 12:03 pm Category: National News

It’s now been almost two years since the partnership with Rwanda was agreed and the legislation in the Nationality and Borders Act was passed to enable the Government to remove asylum seekers who enter the UK illegally to process their claims in safe third countries, like Rwanda.

As the Home Secretary who oversaw our attempt to remove illegal migrants to Rwanda in line with our Migration and Economic Partnership, I cannot understate the need to operationalise and implement this policy to deter these dangerous channel crossings.

This policy is vital to saving lives and preventing deaths, like the tragic loss of life seen this weekend, and to breaking the business models of the evil criminal gangs that profit from human misery.

After those laws were passed, the Home Office had detained dozens of illegal migrants so they could be removed to Rwanda. They had no legal right to be in our country and we had issued removals notices. Appeals and claims from them had also been through our domestic courts and were rejected. The plane was on the runway and we were ready to go.

Then, on 14 June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights issued a last-ditch Rule 39 injunction blocking the plane from taking off. It was a bitter blow for border security and common sense and an undermining of our Parliamentary democracy and sovereignty.

Eighteen months of court hearings later, we are having to legislate once again to ensure the courts cannot continue to block the Government from the vital actions needed to control our borders, save lives and stop crimes being committed.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill currently before Parliament is clear that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum claims to be processed in. The new treaty we have signed with Rwanda is also clear that people will not be put at risk of persecution and so there should be no reason for the courts to block flights. These measures reinforce the safeguards already in place.

And, as the courts know, the UN itself already operates refugee schemes in Rwanda for thousands of people, demonstrating that Rwanda is a safe and trusted partner in supporting and meeting the needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

There should be no reason for Strasbourg to intervene again. But, given we know this is a political court, the Government must be prepared to ignore a Rule 39 injunction should one be issued in response to a challenge in the future.

That’s why Clause 5 of the Rwanda Bill, which we will debate tomorrow, is so critical.

It makes it clear that it is for Ministers, and they alone, to ignore Strasbourg if it decides to intervene, and prevents UK courts from overturning that decision.

But the Government should go further. When I was Home Secretary, the risk was not just from lawyers making legal challenges, but also from civil servants undoing the will of ministers.

If the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for the Civil Service, is serious when he says he could block Rule 39 orders, he should confirm that the civil service code cannot be used by officials to obstruct decisions.

Our constitution is clear that decisions on international law are matters for democratically elected ministers to determine, not the courts or the civil service.

The Rwanda Bill gives ministers the power to decide whether to comply with Rule 39 and the Government must force the civil service to let them use it to ensure our robust plans to tackle illegal migration can be operationalised.

This would give MPs on all sides of the House confidence that when the Prime Minister says he will not let a foreign court block flights, nothing can stand in his way.

Eighteen months since we were forced to leave the plane on the runway, we must now come together as a party to pass this Bill. But we must have the reassurance that all potential roadblocks are removed, including the civil service blob.

Our partnership with Rwanda may be a tough and innovative approach, but it will work. As a former Home Secretary, I am convinced that it is the only way to ensure that people know that if they come here illegally, they will not be able to stay.

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