Rishi Sunak has repeatedly refused to say whether the UK would have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to deliver his government’s plan for removing asylum seekers who arrive illegally.
Making his debut appearance at the Commons Liaison Committee, the prime minister was asked by the SNP’s Joanna Cheery whether the UK would have to derogate from the ECHR to fulfil his proposals to curb immigration.
“You will see the legislation next year and no doubt we will have the opportunity to debate it then but I wouldn’t want to speculate on that now,” he said.
Mr Sunak said he welcomes the High Court’s ruling on Monday that the government’s policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful.
He told MPs he believes the plans will help tackle the problem of small boats crossing the Channel.
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But the PM refused to be drawn on whether the government’s Rwanda policy would require changes to the Human Rights Act or the UK’s commitment to the ECHR.
Both Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab have said the government may have to consider withdrawing from the ECHR to press ahead successfully with the government’s plans.
“We expect further legal challenge. We will continue to pursue that as necessary,” he said.
“I believe the Rwanda scheme represents an important part of our plan to tackle illegal migration and stop small boats. It is not the only part of it but it is an important part of it. That is why I welcome the court decision yesterday.
“We will introduce legislation in the new year that will achieve the aim I set out. I am confident that we can deliver on that plan and it will make a difference and reduce the number of boats arriving.”
On Monday, Lord Justice Lewis said in his ruling that the controversial policy, introduced under Boris Johnson, was “consistent with the refugee convention”.
However, he said the home secretary should look at people’s “particular circumstances” before deporting them to the central African country.
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Braverman defends Rwanda plan Making a statement in the Commons after the judgment, the home secretary said the Rwanda policy is a “humane” and “practical alternative” for those who come to the UK through “dangerous, illegal and unnecessary routes”.
“Being relocated to Rwanda is not a punishment, but an innovative way of addressing a major problem to redress the imbalance between illegal and legal migration routes,” she told MPs.
The government announced its Rwanda policy back in April, which would see some asylum seekers who had reached the UK via small boat Channel crossings deported to the country to have their cases processed.
Ms Patel said it would help deter people from making the dangerous journey, but human rights campaigners, charities and opposition parties condemned the plan as inhumane.
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The PM avoided directly answering questions about immigration.
Diana Johnson asked how many small boat crossings he expects next year, whether anyone will be waiting more than 6 months for an asylum claims and how many will be sent to Rwanda, but the PM wouldn’t set specific targets, saying the issues “can’t be solved overnight”.
While the court decision yesterday that the Rwanda plan is legal was a win for the government, the plan being workable relies on swift action.
The home office being potentially dragged to court over every Rwanda deportation case makes it very hard for the policy hard to work as a deterrent.
Rishi Sunak knows it’s an issue that chimes with many voters and Tory MPs, something he said is a personal priority.
He pledged last week to “abolish” the immigration backlog, to achieve something his predecessors tried and failed to.
The PM may not be setting himself any targets today, but images of small boats arriving on the Kent coast will speak for themselves.
The first flight was set to take off in June with four people on board, but was halted after a number of legal challenges and the European Court of Human Rights ruling the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm”.
However, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss insisted they would push ahead with the policy when they took the keys to Number 10.
Meanwhile, the PM also told the Commons Liaison Committee that he was committed to abolishing the backlog of 92,000 asylum claims – as it stood at the end of June 2022 – by the end of the year.
However, the current backlog stands at 117,00.
“I think it would represent one of the most significant reductions in the backlog we have seen. If we can go further I would absolutely love to,” he said.