Cleverly visits Rwanda to sign asylum seeker treaty
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Home Secretary James Cleverly has arrived in Rwanda to sign a new treaty to help revive the Government’s stalled asylum deal.
Mr Cleverly travelled to Kigali as Rishi Sunak bids to make the plan to send migrants to the African nation legally watertight after the Supreme Court’s ruling against the policy.
Domestic legislation, which will be rushed through Parliament to assert Rwanda is a safe destination for asylum seekers who arrive in Britain, is also planned.
Mr Cleverly will meet his counterpart, Vincent Biruta, to sign the treaty and discuss key next steps on the so-called migration and economic development partnership.
He also thanked Rwandans for showing him the “pain” they went through, as he visited the genocide memorial during his first overseas visit as Home Secretary.
Ministers hope the upgraded agreement, along with “emergency” legislation at home, will address the issues that led the UK’s highest court to rule the Rwanda scheme unlawful.
Downing Street said the treaty would be published later on Tuesday, but indicated there were no plans for the Commons to sit through Christmas to speed up the passage of the domestic legislation, as had previously been suggested.
Before his arrival in Kigali, Mr Cleverly said: “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives.
“The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future to address the conclusions they reached – and that is what we have set out to do together, with this new, internationally recognised treaty agreement.
“Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees, and I look forward to meeting with counterparts to sign this agreement and further discuss how we work together to tackle the global challenge of illegal migration.”
Opening Cabinet on Tuesday, the Prime Minister asked the Home Secretary – dialling in from Kigali – to update on work to secure the new treaty, with Mr Cleverly describing it as “the strongest possible agreement and one that goes far beyond that of the UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) with Rwanda.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick “emphasised the arrangements now in place provide strong and substantive assurances that are vastly more robust than those considered by the courts around 15 months previously”, No 10 said.
Mr Sunak said he was “fed up with our Rwanda policy being blocked” and said the emergency laws would “end the merry-go-round, so that we can fix this problem once and for all – and stop the boats”.
Writing in The Sun, he said: “People looking at this country have got to know that if they come here illegally, they will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe country.”
Mr Jenrick declared he is “confident” flights carrying asylum seekers will take off for Rwanda before the next general election, as he described illegal migrants as having “broken into” the UK.
He told Sky News: “The treaty that the Home Secretary is going to sign later today, I hope, will create a fundamentally different and better arrangement with the government of Rwanda that answers the concerns of the Supreme Court.
“Then we’re going to bring forward a piece of emergency legislation which will embed that in British, UK law and go further to close some of the loopholes that bring spurious claims and prevent migrants from being put on those planes.
“Together, I think that will enable us to get this plan up and running.”
Details of the finalised treaty are yet to be disclosed but reports have swirled about what it will contain.
There has been speculation that Rwanda is pushing for more money on top of the £140 million already committed to the scheme.
The Sunday Times reported that the capital of Kigali will be given a £15 million top-up payment to agree fresh terms on the agreement to take migrants who arrive in the UK on small boats.
Downing Street insisted there had been no demand for extra money from Rwanda.
Mr Sunak met Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai on Friday as part of the push to finalise the deal.
The Daily Telegraph reported that British lawyers could be sent to advise Rwandan judges, perhaps for specific asylum case hearings or for longer periods, to help ensure appeals are granted correctly, although the Kigali government is unlikely to accept any arrangement which would look like colonial-style legal interference.
After the Supreme Court judgment on November 15, the Government insisted it had been working on contingency measures and promised a treaty with Rwanda within days along with emergency legislation in Parliament, but so far neither has emerged.
Mr Cleverly is the third home secretary to travel to Rwanda since Priti Patel signed the initial deal last April.
His predecessor, Suella Braverman, visited Kigali earlier this year.
But so far no asylum seekers have been sent to the country due to the legal battles over the policy
Natasha Tsangarides from charity Freedom from Torture said: “It’s shameful that even after the highest court in the land unanimously found this scheme to be unlawful, the Government is nonetheless pursuing a new treaty with Rwanda.
“No amount of tinkering will change the fundamental fact that this ‘cash for humans’ deal is immoral. And it needs to be shelved once and for all.”