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In the end the Supreme Court decision could not have been clearer. The court on Wednesday found unanimously that the Government’s Rwanda scheme is in breach of international law and cannot go ahead.
Despite the Government’s repeated insistence that Rwanda is a “safe country,” the court found that there are “substantial grounds” to believe that genuine refugees sent there by the UK would be at risk of return to their countries of origin.
The judges upheld the previous findings of the Court of Appeal that the “memorandum of understanding” between the UK and Rwandan Governments could not be relied upon.
They cited evidence from Rwanda’s previous resettlement agreement with Israel, in which the country breached multiple assurances it had made.
Crucially, despite calls from the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman to force through the scheme by quitting the European Convention on Human Rights, the court found that the Rwanda agreement in its current form would still leave the UK in breach of multiple other international agreements.
Had it gone ahead the UK would have breached its obligations to offer refuge to those fleeing persecution, and to ensure they are not returned to the countries they have fled.
So clear cut was the Supreme Court’s finding that it raises questions about whether Rishi Sunak’s Government could ever really have believed that the scheme was viable in the first place and if so then why.
Ever since the scheme was first proposed by Boris Johnson’s Government, legal experts warned that it would place the UK at clear risk of breaching international law.
Yet despite this, multiple Home Secretary’s including Braverman, continued to suggest that it was a viable plan, even going so far to suggest that it was her “dream” to see flights taking off for Rwanda.
That dream, however, is likely now over.
Despite Downing Street’s insistence prior to the verdict that the Government has “contingency plans” in place for a Supreme Court defeat, it is incredibly hard to see a scenario whereby flights to Rwanda ever take off.
Save from Britain quitting all of its multiple international obligations, the scheme is surely now dead for all intents and purposes.
At best the Government can attempt to strike an agreement with an actually safe third country. However, doing so would require time and international goodwill, both of which Sunak’s Government are in short supply of as we creep ever closer to the next general election.
Even if such a plan could be made viable in time, the potential numbers involved would be tiny compared to the tens of thousands of asylum claims still waiting to be processed.
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Today’s finding confirms that the Government’s plans to send refugees to Rwanda were in clear breach of international law.
What it also confirms is that it was in even clearer breach of basic standards of human decency.
Until relatively recently Britain had a proud record of helping to both create, and uphold, the international framework for protecting vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution.
The Rwanda scheme, had it been allowed to go ahead, would have destroyed those protections and that record while setting a dangerous precedent for other governments around the world to follow.
As a result, the Supreme Court’s decision is not only a massive defeat for Sunak’s Government, but it is also a victory for all those who still believe in maintaining our basic responsibilities to our fellow man.