A former Supreme Court Justice has slammed Rishi Sunak’s latest plan to save his beleaguered Rwanda scheme as “profoundly discreditable” and said it will not work.
Jonathan Sumption said an attempt by ministers to legally deem Rwanda a “safe” country for asylum seekers through an emergency law change would apply in Britain but would not be recognised internationally.
He said he had never heard of a government “trying to change the facts, by law” and he warned the prime minister’s plan would not get through the House of Lords.
Meanwhile the Bar Council, the voice of the legal profession in England and Wales, said it had “grave concerns” about Mr Sunak’s plan.
Bar Council chairman Nick Vineall KC said it would “would raise profound and important questions about the respective role of the courts and parliament in countries that subscribe to the Rule of Law”.
Lord Sumption told The Independent: “I would have thought it was obvious that the Lord’s is going to be the main focus of opposition and they may throw it out altogether.”
He earlier told the BBC: “I have never heard of them [the government] trying to change the facts, by law.
“For as long as black isn’t white, the business of passing acts of parliament to say that it is profoundly discreditable.”
“If the courts are told [by an Act of Parliament] that they’ve got to pretend that Rwanda is safe, whether it is or not, then that will work domestically,” he said.
Lord Sumption added: “But it won’t work internationally. It will still be a breach of the government’s international law obligations.”
Mr Sunak vowed on Wednesday to bring in emergency legislation and strike a new treaty with the African country, following a ruling by the UK’s most senior judges that the original plan was unlawful.
He also vowed he would “not allow a foreign court to block these flights”, although he resisted pressure from the right of his party to immediately pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The prime minister’s plans for an emergency law change would deem Rwanda a safe country. Downing Street believes upgrading Britain’s agreement with Rwanda to a legally-binding treaty, from a memorandum of understanding, would address the Supreme Court’s concerns.
It came after Mr Sunak suffered a humiliating defeat as five Supreme Court judges unanimously backed a Court of Appeal decision that deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system meant the £140m plan was unlawful.
The loss left the prime minister’s “stop the boats” promise in jeopardy, with Tory MPs warning it posed an “existential threat” to the party.
Mr Sunak’s response was designed to stave off a rebellion of right-wing Tories, with the PM vowing to do “whatever it takes” to end migrant channel crossings.
He highlighted the Supreme Court’s suggestion that changes in Rwanda to prevent genuine asylum seekers being sent back to the countries they have fled could render the plans lawful.
“There are further elements that they want additional certainty on and noted that changes can be delivered in the future to address those issues,” Mr Sunak said at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Vineall urged Mr Sunak to only bring forward the planned legislation “after the most anxious and careful consideration of its constitutional propriety”.
“If and when such legislation is proposed we will consider it carefully,” he added.