Wed, Dec 6, 2023 11:34 AM
By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — The U.K. government triggered criticism from opponents and division inside the governing Conservatives on Wednesday with a bill that will let it ignore a part of the country's human rights law in order to send asylum-seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
The legislation is part of government plans to overcome a block by the U.K. Supreme Court on its Rwanda policy. The court ruled last month that the plan was illegal because Rwanda isn't a safe country for refugees.
Britain and Rwanda have since signed a treaty pledging to strengthen protection for migrants. The U.K. government says that will allow it to pass a law declaring Rwanda a safe destination.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said the Safety of Rwanda Bill “will make absolutely clear in U.K. law that Rwanda is a safe country.” He urged lawmakers in Parliament to pass the legislation, even though it may violate international human rights rules.
The government says the law will allow it to “disapply" sections of U.K. human rights law when it comes to Rwanda-related asylum claims.
On the first page of the bill, Cleverly states that he can’t guarantee that it's compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights — but that lawmakers should approve it anyway.
The bill now faces a battle in Parliament. It doesn't go far enough for some lawmakers on the governing Conservative Party’s authoritarian wing, who want the U.K. to go further and leave the European rights convention completely. That would put Britain among a very few European nonmembers including Belarus and Russia, which was expelled after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, who has advocated for tough measures, quit on Wednesday after the bill was published.
The bill also will likely face resistance from centrist Conservative lawmakers who oppose Britain breaching its human rights obligations.
And Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said that his country would scrap the deal unless Britain stuck to international law.
"It has always been important to both Rwanda and the U.K. that our rule of law partnership meets the highest standards of international law, and it places obligations on both the U.K. and Rwanda to act lawfully,” he said in a statement.
The troubled Rwanda plan is central to the U.K. government’s self-imposed goal of stopping unauthorized asylum-seekers arriving on small boats across the English Channel.
Britain and Rwanda struck a deal in April 2022 for some migrants who cross the Channel to be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed and, if successful, they would stay. The U.K. government argues that the deportations will discourage others from making the risky sea crossing and break the business model of people-smuggling gangs.
Critics say that it's both unethical and unworkable to send migrants to a country 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) away, with no chance of ever settling in the U.K.
No one has yet been sent to Rwanda under the plan, which has faced multiple legal challenges. The new law, if passed, would make it harder to challenge the deportation orders in the courts.
The immigration spokeswoman of the opposition Labour Party, Yvette Cooper, said that Jenrick's resignation showed “total chaos in the government and in the Conservative Party.”
“This is the desperate dying days of a party ripping itself apart, clearly totally out of ideas, lost any sense of leadership or direction,” she said.