The British government is hoping to be given new powers via amendments to the new immigration bill making its way through parliament. This would allow them to deport migrants to places such as Rwanda, even in the face of court injunctions to the contrary.
A series of amendments will be added to the new immigration bill, which is currently making its way through the British parliament, confirmed the UK government on Wednesday (April 19).
The amendments would hand additional powers to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, allowing her essentially to disregard court injunctions issued on migration issues.
For example, if passed, the changes would allow her to override decisions like the one made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last year on UK plans to fly asylum seekers in the UK to Rwanda for processing.
The decision made by the ECHR last June essentially prevented the first UK-Rwanda flight with asylum seekers on board from taking off, after the Strasbourg court issued what is known as a "Rule 39" order.
According to the Council of Europe, this is "an urgent interim measure made to any state party to the convention," which can be used when the court believes that there is "an imminent risk of irreparable damage."
The right-wing Daily Mail newspaper wrote that these amendments would primarily serve the purpose of appeasing some of the right-wing branches of the ruling Conservative Party.
If the bill is passed, its powers would also allow the Home Secretary to ignore similar injunctions made by British courts.
The proposed changes to the law would therefore result in it becoming much more difficult to launch a case to block someone from being sent to Rwanda. Any cases launched would need to persuade a judge that being sent to Rwanda or any other place would cause the person being sent "serious and irreversible harm," reported the Daily Mail.
Speaking to the BBC's Today Programme on Thursday (April 20), Lord John Thomas, a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, referred to the amendments as "a step of the absolute last resort."
He added that this "sets an extraordinarily bad example for a country committed to the rule of law."
'This is a step a government should never take'
Lord Thomas continued that "having the power to ignore a court order is something that unless the circumstances were quite extraordinary, ... is a step a government should never take."
He underlined that the UK is party to a series of international agreements, including being a signatory to the European Court of Justice and International Human Rights treaties. Some of these treaties extend into existing British legislation that safeguards the rights of migrants, such as the Human Rights Act.
However, according to Conservative rebel sources speaking to the Daily Mail, the proposed amendments would bar anyone from trying to challenge a removal decision by quoting the Human Rights Act.
'Symbolic of a breach of the rule of law'
Lord Thomas said that the UK had had comparable disagreements with Strasbourg before and that in his opinion, the government needed to "be precise about what it is that the Home Secretary is entitled to do, and … to discuss it within the Council of Europe and to ask the Strasbourg court to write its procedure."
He also remarked that although many people might believe that the UK's migration policy was "sensible," he felt that the situation needed chiefly to be looked at in the context of Britain's adherence to the law.
Lord Thomas added that he was glad that the amendments were being tabled to the bill, allowing parliament to scrutinze the bill more closely -- rather than just handing the powers directly to the Home Secretary.
He said, however, that he expected a lot of Lords to have trouble with the bill because it was "symbolic of a breach of the rule of law, because you are saying the government can ignore the decision of a court."
Safe and legal routes
In addition to the amendments regarding court decisions, the government is also expected to start drafting more ways to admit migrants by legal and safe routes -- a step, said the BBC's politics editor Chris Mason, which is intended to appease the left-wing of the Conservative party.
According to a recent UK Refugee Council briefing about English Channel Crossings, 35,811 people from seven different countries crossed the Channel in the first nine months of 2022. During the same period, stated the document, "only 1,025 people from those same countries [Albania, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan] were resettled through a safe route, working in collaboration with the UNHCR, to the UK."
According to the UK Refugee Council, there were also some noteworthy disparities observed in the UK's asylum grant rates: People from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, who used the Channel route to arrive in the UK, had an initial positive asylum decision grant rate of 98%, while those from Sudan reached 84% and those from Iran 80% in 2022.
The Refugee Council said that the numbers of those arriving by safe and legal routes had gone down in 2022 compared to figures from the years predating the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance in 2019, 5,612 people reached the UK via resettlement visas and 7,456 via family reunion visas.
In 2022, those numbers were 1,185 for resettlement and 4,473 for family reunion. This represents a 75% decrease for those arriving via resettlement and a 40% decrease for those arriving via family reunion, said the Refugee Council.
The statistics used were provided by the Home Office.
Escalating arrival numbers projected
Meanwhile the government released its latest predictions on migrant arrival rate across the English Channel this year. According to the news agency Reuters, it could be as many as 56,000 by the end of 2023.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 5,000 people arrived in the UK from across the Channel. The government also said in a court document that in total, "as of March it was estimated to be accommodating more than 109,000 asylum seekers, with 48,000 in hotels at a cost of £6.2 million (around €7 million) per day."
The Home Office said that the current projections could "take the [migrant] population needing government support to between 120,000 and 140,000."
Immigration is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top five priorities, especially as Britain heads towards local elections at the beginning of May.