Rishi Sunak has vowed he is still “completely committed to stopping the boats” after the Rwanda deportation scheme was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in a major blow to his government.
Judges at Britain’s highest court ruled against the landmark migration policy, which would have seen ministers deport asylum seekers by plane to the east African country in a bid to cut the number of people arriving in the UK via small boats crossing the Channel.
In response, the Prime Minister, who will hold a press conference later this afternoon, said: “We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps.
“This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.”
Sunak said it was “crucial” that the court had confirmed it was lawful in principle to send “illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing” and he promised his ministers would “do whatever it takes” to end illegal migration.
“We will stop the boats,” he added.
Lord Reed, the President of the Supreme Court, said in a summary of the ruling that the five justices unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that the Rwanda policy was unlawful.
He said: “There is a legal rule that refugees must not be returned to their country of origin if their lives would be threatened in that country.”
The court found there were substantial grounds to believe genuine refugees could be at risk of refoulement, or being returned to the countries they fled, and dismissed the home secretary’s appeal.
It comes after the Prime Minister sacked controversial home secretary Suella Braverman in Monday’s cabinet reshuffle, over her comments that homelessness was a “lifestyle choice”.
Braverman had been a strong advocate for the Rwanda scheme and yesterday penned a scathing letter attacking Sunak for his leadership and accused him of failing to make tough choices.
The Prime Minister made reducing the numbers of small boat crossings one of his five pledges – a key plank of his leadership – last year.
His spokesman confirmed to reporters on several occasions that the ‘stop the boats’ slogan meant stopping all the boats.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confirmed he would scrap the Rwanda deportation policy, even if it proved successful and insisted that the “hugely expensive” scheme was wrong.
Human rights campaigners have welcomed the verdict, which they argued could leave vulnerable individuals at risk.
Halima Begum, ActionAidUK chief executive, said: “Today we breathe a huge sigh of relief as this cruel and unworkable plan receives the ultimate judgment it deserves.
“Since its very inception, legal experts and campaigners have been absolutely clear that this inhumane policy is incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael urged the government – and new home secretary James Cleverly – to focus on “fixing the broken asylum system”.
“So much time and money has already been wasted,” he said.
“Tackling the sky-high asylum backlog and creating safe and legal routes for sanctuary will make far more progress towards that than this pet project policy ever could.”
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The fact that the government came up with the idea of sending people fleeing violence and persecution to a country thousands of miles away is shameful. It goes against everything we stand for as a nation.
“The government must now stop playing on people’s fears for short term political gain, treat asylum seekers with dignity, reduce the massive backlog of asylum claims and work constructively with allies to stop the dangerous people-trafficking gangs.”