The Government won a significant legal victory this week when the High Court ruled that its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful.
Delivering the ruling, Lord Justice Lewis said that the Government scheme was “consistent” with the UN’s refugee conventions and UK human rights laws. However, he said that the cases of the eight asylum seekers who had applied for the judicial review (with refugee charities and a civil service union) had not been considered properly, and ordered that they be reassessed.
Last week, four migrants drowned in the Channel when the inflatable boat they were travelling in started to sink in freezing conditions. A day earlier, Rishi Sunak had unveiled a five-point plan to stem the number of people attempting the crossing; it includes new laws to ensure that migrants who arrive via unofficial routes have no right to remain, and a coordinated “small boats command”, to patrol the Channel.
Why did the High Court make it’s decision?
The High Court made the right call, said The Daily Telegraph. The process of removing people who arrive “without good reason or permission” should be “straight-forward”. Yet successive governments have had their reforms to the system undone by the courts.
The Rwanda policy “appeared scuppered” in June, when the European Court of Human Rights stepped in at the 11th hour and said that deportation flights could not proceed until the legal challenges were exhausted. In a “sane world”, the Government would be able to implement its flagship policy now, said The Sun; but alas, there is sure to be an appeal.
The court wasn’t asked to rule on whether the policy was humane, practical or cost-effective, said The Independent. Had it been, it might have decided that it was “none of those things”. The scheme has already cost £140m, before a single migrant has reached Rwanda – a state with a less than exemplary human rights record. And the fact that people are still dying in the Channel suggests that it is not having the deterrent effect the Government has claimed as one of its key benefits.
Why is the Government so keen on the policy?
Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s “dream of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is still alive”, said Rajeev Syal in The Guardian. And for “visceral political reasons”, it has become Sunak’s obsession too.
Aghast at polls suggesting that voters are shifting their support to Labour and Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party, Tory MPs are demanding he put a stop to the crossings, and the drownings.
But with legal challenges sure to continue, it could be years before deportations to Rwanda can begin. In the meantime, said Nick Ferrari in the Daily Express, Sunak will have to rely on his new plan making a dent in the number of small boats that leave France. Its “main planks” include a deal with Tirana to allow for the rapid deportation of arrivals from Albania; and the new boats command, combining the police, the Army, and Border Force.
Typically, his plan has met with howls of left-wing outrage, said Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. But until the Government smashes the smugglers’ business model, people will keep coming.
So what happens next?
Yes, this is a worsening problem, said Arshad Isakjee in the Financial Times. Some 40,000 people arrived in small boats this year, up from 28,000 in 2021. But asylum seekers are forced to take dangerous, irregular routes to the UK because for most, there are no “safe and legal” ones.
The chances of the Government opening up more of those are remote, said Ian Dunt in the i newspaper. But it could at least speed up the claims process. The UK received 48,540 asylum applications in 2021 – “well below” the numbers in the early 2000s. Yet the backlog has quadrupled since then, leaving 117,000 people in limbo, and the taxpayer forking out £5.5m per day to house them in hotels. Sunak recognises the problem: he plans to boost the number of claim processors, and streamline the process for migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. But such steps don’t go nearly far enough. “Nothing is going to stop people coming to the UK.” What the Government can do is ensure that their applications are processed speedily, and humanely, when they arrive.
Speaking after the High Court’s ruling, Braverman said that she wants to deliver deportations of asylum seekers to Rwanda “at scale and as soon as possible”. But the PM’s spokesman acknowledged that it was “impossible” to know when deportations might begin.
Current immigration levels of more than a million arrivals a year may become the norm, according to the Social Market Foundation think-tank. Its report said that, owing to the UK’s ageing population and skills shortages, the country will continue to need immigrant workers.