6 December 2023
UK-Rwanda Partnership

Home Secretary James Cleverly makes a statement to the House of Commons about the Government’s plan to stop the boats and tackle the vile trade in people smuggled across the channel.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement about the Government’s plan to stop the boats and tackle the vile trade in people smuggled across the channel.

Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment on this Government’s migration and economic development agreement with Rwanda. In that judgment their lordships upheld the view of the High Court and the Court of Appeal that it is lawful to relocate illegal migrants, who have no right to be here, to another safe country for asylum processing and resettlement, but upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which means that the Government cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda. That was due to the Court’s concerns that relocated individuals might be “refouled”—removed to a country where they could face persecution or ill treatment. We did not agree with that assessment, but of course we respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also acknowledged that its concerns were not immutable and were not an aspersion on Rwanda’s intentions, and that changes may be delivered in the future that could address its concerns. Today I can inform the House that those concerns have been conclusively answered and those changes made, as a result of intensive diplomacy by the Prime Minister, by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, by the Attorney General’s Office and by the Home Office. We have created a situation that addresses the concerns.

Our rule of law partnership with Rwanda sets out in a legally binding international treaty the obligations on both the United Kingdom and Rwanda within international law, and sets out to this House and to the courts why Rwanda is and will remain a safe country for the purposes of asylum and resettlement. This is a partnership to which we and Rwanda are completely committed. Rwanda is a safe and prosperous country. It is a vital partner for the UK. Our treaty puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda and ends the endless merry-go-round of legal challenges that have thus far frustrated this policy and second-guessed the will of Parliament. I want to put on record my gratitude to President Kagame, Foreign Minister Biruta and the Rwandan Government for working with us at pace to do what it takes to get this deal up and running with flights taking off as soon as possible.

Rwanda will introduce a strengthened end-to-end asylum system, which will include a new specialist asylum appeals tribunal to consider individual appeals against any refused claims. It will have one Rwandan and one other Commonwealth co-president and be made up of judges from a mix of nations selected by those co-presidents. We have been working with Rwanda to build capacity and to make it clear to those relocated to Rwanda that they will not be sent to another third country.

The treaty is binding in international law. It also enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, which will ensure adherence to obligations under the treaty and have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring. It will be given unfettered access to complete assessments and reports and to monitor the entire relocation process, from initial screening to relocation and settlement in Rwanda. It will also develop a system to enable relocated individuals and legal representatives to lodge confidential complaints directly with the committee.

But, given the Supreme Court judgment, we cannot be confident that the courts will respect a new treaty on its own, so today the Government have published emergency legislation to make it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is a safe country and to prevent the courts from second-guessing Parliament’s will. We will introduce that legislation tomorrow in the form of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, to give effect to the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country, notwithstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law.

For the purposes of the Bill, a safe country is defined as one to which people may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law that are relevant to the treatment in that country of people who are removed there. This means that someone removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and that anyone who is seeking asylum or who has had an asylum determination will have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law.

Anyone removed to Rwanda under the provisions of the treaty will not be removed from Rwanda, except to the United Kingdom in a very small number of limited and extreme circumstances, and should the UK request the return of any relocated person, Rwanda will make them available. Decision makers, including the Home Secretary, immigration officers and the courts, must all treat Rwanda as a safe country, and they must do so notwithstanding all relevant UK law or any interpretation of international law, including the human rights convention; the refugee convention; the 1966 international covenant on civil and political rights; the 1984 UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, which was signed in Warsaw on 16 May 2005; customary international law; and any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights.

Where the European Court of Human Rights indicates an interim measure relating to the intended removal of someone to Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of immigration Acts, a Minister of the Crown alone, and not a court or tribunal, will decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure. To further prevent individual claims to prevent removal, the Bill disapplies the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, including sections 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The Bill is lawful, it is fair and it is necessary, because people will stop coming here illegally only when they know that they cannot stay here and that they will be detained and quickly removed to a safe third country. It is only by breaking the cycle and delivering a deterrent that we will remove the incentive for people to be smuggled here and stop the boats.

This legislation builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which the House passed this summer, and complements the basket of other measures that the UK Government are employing to end illegal migration—for example, the largest ever small boats deal with France. Tackling the supply of boats and parts, the arrest and conviction of people smugglers, and illegal working raids have all helped to drive down small boat arrivals by more than a third this year, even as the numbers are rising elsewhere in Europe.

Parliament and the public alike support the Rwanda plan. Other countries have since copied our plans with Rwanda, and we know from interviews that the prospect of being relocated out of the UK has already had a deterrent effect. This will be considerably magnified when we get the flights to Rwanda. This treaty and this new Bill will help to make that a reality, and I commend this statement to the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

The usual rule applies: only those who have been here for the statement should stand to ask a question. I call the shadow Home Secretary.


Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement.

There is total chaos in the Government and the Conservative party. These are the desperate dying days of a party ripping itself apart. It is clearly totally out of ideas and has lost any sense of leadership or direction. We have the Home Secretary making a statement, but there are rumours that the Immigration Minister has resigned. Where is he? Perhaps the Home Secretary could make that the first question he answers: does he still have an Immigration Minister in place? The Conservatives have open warfare on their Back Benches, the starting gun has been fired on the next leadership election and, once again, the whole country is paying the price for this chaos.

This is the third Home Secretary to go to Rwanda with a cheque book and come back waving a piece of paper making grand promises. This is the third piece of new Tory legislation on channel crossings in two years. Each time, they have told us that new laws would stop all the boat crossings and send everyone who arrived to another country, but they had to partially revoke the first law because it was making things worse and they have not implemented the second one because they know it will not work. Now, they are on their third new law. Forgive us for not believing that this one is going to solve anything, either.

The previous Home Secretary seems to agree with us, because she is already saying tonight that the Bill is “fatally flawed” and that it will not stop the boats. One side of the Conservative party is warning that it does not come close to meeting Suella’s test; the other side is appalled that the Home Secretary, who used to wander round the world promoting international law, just boasted in his statement about a new British Bill that tells the courts not just to ignore international law, but to ignore the facts. What kind of party have they become?

What of the view from No. 10? The Prime Minister has just met his Back Benchers, and the official briefing from that meeting says that he has told MPs that the Government have gone as far as possible, but Rwanda did not want to be part of anything that broke or disapplied international law. The statement from the Rwandan Government says:

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

You could not make this up!

Our Supreme Court says that the Rwanda scheme is a problem because of evidence that Rwanda is not complying with international treaties on the treatment of asylum seekers, but the only thing stopping the British Government ignoring international law completely is the Rwandan Government. It is the Rwandan Government keeping us on the straight and narrow. The Prime Minister is too scared to defend a policy in its own terms and too scared to tell his Back Benchers what he really thinks—too scared to take a view. Instead, he is hiding behind President Kagame. Weak, weak, weak. He does not deserve to be running the country if he cannot even sort out the issues and the divisions on his flagship policy in his own party.

And all of this for what? For a scheme that will likely cover less than 1% of the people who arrive in this country to claim asylum and will cost hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Will the Home Secretary tell us about the cost? In 2022, the UK taxpayer paid Rwanda £140 million, but the permanent secretary has said that there are additional payments each year. Will the Home Secretary tell us, on top of that £140 million, how much more has already been sent as an additional payment this year? Is there a secret commitment to make annual payments under the migration and economic development partnership even if no asylum seekers are sent to Rwanda? Will he confirm that the British taxpayer will also have to pay additional millions to sort out the problems in the Rwandan asylum system, even though the Government are totally failing to sort out the problems and delays in the British asylum system, which the Conservatives broke? Will he also confirm that the UK is paying costs for people sent to Rwanda for five years? Will he tell us how much that will cost? Will he confirm that it will be at least twice as much as dealing with those cases here? Will he also tell us, instead of trying to hide the information, the total sum that he will be paying to Rwanda?

Will the Home Secretary tell us how many people are going to be covered? The treaty says that it is limited by capacity in Rwanda, and the Court of Appeal said that it would be 100 people and that talk of thousands of people was “political hyperbole”. Will he now admit that even if he ever gets this failing scheme off the ground, it will cover less than 1% of the people who applied for asylum last year? Will he tell us how many Rwandan refugees the UK is going to take, and who is going to pay for them?

The Home Secretary has a treaty and a law that he knows will not stop dangerous boat crossings. We should be taking action to stop those crossings, to go after the criminal gangs and to clear the asylum backlog, and he knows that Labour’s plan to set up a new cross-border unit would have far more effect than the things that he has been talking about today. He says Rwanda is not the “be-all and end-all”, but his Back Benchers think it is do or die—that is why he is in so much chaos. He thinks—he has said it privately—that this whole thing is “batshit”. That is nothing on what he has had to swallow to come forward and make this statement today.

This is total chaos. The Government are arguing about full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed options—it is a full-on milk war in the Tory party, which sums up this failing Government. They cannot solve their own Tory boats crisis. They cannot defend our border security. They cannot solve their broken asylum system, and they cannot hold their party together. They do not deserve to run the country. Britain deserves better than this.

Hon. Members


James Cleverly 

The calls for more from the right hon. Lady’s own Back Benchers are well placed. I was hoping that she would speak for longer, so that she would eventually get around to giving us some comments about the Bill, or the policy, or giving us some clue about what on earth Labour would do.

It is quite interesting that, once again, we see the mask slip on the Opposition Benches. The right hon. Lady was critical about the financial arrangement that goes hand in hand with the agreement that we have come to with Rwanda. It is interesting that hers is the same party that was very critical of this Government when we were forced by circumstances to reduce our official development assistance expenditure. I just want to understand the Opposition’s thinking. They seem comfortable with the idea that the UK gives away money to countries such as Rwanda to help them develop, but they seem deeply uncomfortable when those countries actually earn the money by bringing forward reform. It is, I think, a rather distasteful state of affairs that they would like to view Rwanda exclusively through the prism of development and aid, but are deeply uncomfortable when a country like Rwanda earns the money.

The simple truth is that Rwanda is making huge progress in professionalising and strengthening its institutions, working alongside the UK and other international partners. I believe that we are duty-bound to support countries such as Rwanda when they play their part in addressing the issues that the world is facing. They are helping to resolve problems, rather than being part of a problem, and they deserve our thanks for doing so.

We will pursue this legislation, which supports a treaty that sees Rwanda strengthening its institutions and addressing some of the world’s most intractable challenges, and we support it as it is supporting us.

Mr Deputy Speaker 

Can people please focus on asking a question and not making statements, and please can we hear the questions and the answers in silence? There is a lot of calling out on both sides of the House.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Clearly, he is becoming incredibly familiar with the legal challenges that the Government, the country and the nation face when it comes to migration issues. Can he give us details of the assessments that have been made as to whether the disapplication of the Human Rights Act and other laws is robust, will stand up to the legal challenges and, ultimately, will ensure the delivery and the implementation of this policy to curb illegal migration?

James Cleverly 

The UK takes its international obligations incredibly seriously. The Human Rights Act is, in part, being disapplied through this legislation. We were, of course, one of the founding members of the European Court of Human Rights and we regard it as an important institution, but, like many post-war institutions, it would benefit from evolution and updating. I made that position clear when I was Foreign Secretary.

The point is that we want to make sure that a country, Rwanda, which is working with us, strengthening its institutions and seeking to do the right thing by both European refugees and African refugees, is supported in doing so. We have a robust legal system and a robust parliamentary system here in the UK; we should have some more self-confidence in those systems and use our experience to help capacity building in partner countries such as Rwanda.

Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

When the permanent secretary came before the Home Affairs Select Committee last week, he was unable to tell us how much is being spent on the Rwanda deal because Ministers have decided to update Parliament annually. Can the Home Secretary confirm today how much additional money will be provided to Rwanda in the light of the changes in the treaty, and whether he will update Parliament more often than once a year? We are looking forward to seeing the Immigration Minister at the Home Affairs Select Committee next Wednesday to ask him further questions; if, for whatever reason, he is not able to attend, will the Home Secretary attend in his place?

James Cleverly 

Let me make it absolutely clear: we remain committed to our promise to publish the costs of the scheme on an annual basis. To make this absolutely clear to the House, too, the Rwandans asked for no additional money in connection with this treaty. None was asked for, none was offered and none was provided. We will update the House in the way we have committed to and I have no doubt that the Immigration Minister will come before the right hon. Lady’s Committee as promised.

Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)

The Prime Minister said that he would not allow a foreign court to block his Rwanda plans—meaning, of course, the European Court of Human Rights—so can my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explain why article 11(4)(a) of the treaty expressly requires Rwanda to enable migrants to make claims to that European Court?

James Cleverly 

Throughout this plan, we have made it clear that we will remain in conformity with international law. The European Court of Human Rights does of course have an important role to play, but the point we have made is that there are many countries that are in disagreement with international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. We are determined to do the right thing to deter the evil people smugglers, the slave traders, and those people who would seek to abuse and take advantage of vulnerable people, and to work with Rwanda, in conformity with international law, but being clear that we are not going to be deterred from acting promptly.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Just by saying that Rwanda is a safe country does not make it so. Legislating does not make it so. The Home Secretary says that Rwanda is safe, yet somehow his treaty says that we will accept asylum seekers from Rwanda—from that safe country—so it is both safe and unsafe. He says that he respects the assessment of the Supreme Court, but he is here today to override it. His treaty says that they will not remove children, but the treaty is full of provisions for what happens when children do end up in Rwanda. He says that human rights are important, but they are not there for everybody, and he seeks to disapply them.

The Home Secretary comes here today while the Rwandan Minister says:

“It has always been important to both Rwanda and the UK that our rule of law partnership meets the highest standards of international law, and it places obligations on both the UK and Rwanda to act lawfully. Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

So if this deal does break international law and our treaty obligations, the deal fails to exist. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary says it does not, but it is not a matter in which they can just overlook the human rights convention, the refugee convention and all those other conventions and disapply them when it suits. International law does not work that way.

This is an assault on human rights. We should not let this stand from this House, because human rights are universal and they are for everybody, not who the Home Secretary thinks they should apply to. This Bill is a dangerous distraction; it is part of a march towards fascism. Every single piece—[Interruption.] I do not say that lightly, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not say these things lightly. Does the Home Secretary believe that human rights are universal or does he not? That is the key question on this legislation, because we have been told, on every piece of legislation we have passed so far, that it would be a deterrent, yet none of them has worked. This illiberal, toxic piece of legislation today is supposed to be a deterrent, when all the others have failed.

The Home Secretary’s plans for Rwanda have been found to be unlawful. They are immoral. They are a waste of money. They should be scrapped. Scotland wants none of this—none of this—appalling legislation.

James Cleverly 

It is a shame that the hon. Lady’s comments are clearly based on what I can only assume is a cursory and superficial skim of the legislation. She criticises it for a number of things that are not in the legislation, so I will forgive her for the fact that she did not take the time to read it properly. We are absolutely committed to human rights. We were one of the founders of the European Court of Human Rights and our commitment to abide by international law is unwavering. It underpins the relationship we have with Rwanda and I can assure her that it will remain at the forefront of our thinking throughout. And she might reflect on the appropriateness of throwing the word fascism around when we are bringing forward a Bill on which every Member of this House will be allowed to vote, because we are in a democracy.

Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)

The new Home Secretary will be aware and welcome the fact that he will be gauged, indeed judged, on the effectiveness of this legislation for weeks, months, years and perhaps even decades. Will he confirm that the provisions in the Bill are sufficient to resist individual challenges from those who might be sent to Rwanda, and the interest groups and the deluded dodgy lawyers who support them? In particular, will he speak specifically about the disapplication of rule 39?

James Cleverly 

The right is for Ministers to decide on our response to a rule 39 application. That is in the Bill. My right hon. Friend is right that this sets important precedents. The precedent we want to establish is that the people who wish to live and work in this country should do so through the numerous safe and legal routes that we have established; that those people who put themselves in the hands of evil, vile criminal gangs and people smugglers should not expect to be here; but that we work with safe third countries, such as Rwanda, to ensure that those people who are removed from here still have their human rights respected and are homed in a country that respects their human rights. That underpins the Bill, that underpins the treaty that the Bill supports, and that runs through the heart of all the actions and decisions we will make in our response to illegal migration.

Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab)

The United States Department of State’s annual country report on Rwanda says that among its human rights issues are unlawful killing, arbitrary killing, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and torture by the Rwandan Government. By what token does the Home Secretary judge that Rwanda is a safe country? Should he not, actually, hang his head in shame?

James Cleverly 

The Supreme Court, when it handed down its decision, focused on two elements of the situation in Rwanda. One was about the capacity of its judicial system, in particular with decisions on refugees. We have worked with Rwanda to improve that situation. The treaty underpins the fantastic work the Rwandans have done with us and others to strengthen their institutions. The judgment also spoke about the fear of refoulement, and the treaty will ensure that that will not happen.

I was also struck that the Supreme Court, in its judgment, made heavy reference to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR was critical of Rwanda, and yet on the day after the judgment was handed down by their lordships, it flew 160-plus refugees to Rwanda. I judge it by its actions, not necessarily by its words. Rwanda has made huge progress with our help and that of others, so it is now in a situation where it can sign a treaty that protects refugees sent there. I am very confident that that will be the case.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)

It is long overdue that we got to grips with the current levels of both legal and illegal immigration in this country, and that is what our voters expect us to do. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing proposals before us, unlike the intellectual vacuum of the Labour party. Can we be clear that when it comes to the boats crisis, the fault does not lie with those who try to seek a better life for themselves and their families, but with those who trade in human beings? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a moral imperative to break the business model of the people smugglers, no less than there was a moral imperative to break the evil of slavery at the time? Should not all of us who believe in human rights dedicate ourselves to that end?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do not do this because it is easy, or because it is convenient; we do it because it is incredibly important. If, collectively, the UK and other European countries do not address the issue of people smuggling, the winners will be the people smugglers; the losers will be the people who are manipulated by the people smugglers, the ones who are robbed, beaten, raped and murdered, or who drown in the Mediterranean or in the Channel. Those are the people we are trying to help by bringing in a structure that breaks the business model of the people smugglers. The vacuum that he talks about on the Labour Benches means that the silence when it comes to ideas is deafening. Opposition Members choose to oppose at every stage, but they do nothing—nothing—to address the evil of our time.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)

I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will soon be updating us on when the next personal statement might be made to the House.

Those in Kigali appear to understand and agree with Winston Churchill. The point of international treaties and the European Court of Human Rights was to tackle oppressive Governments and the things they did to citizens. We do not sign up to international treaties just on immigration law, so a change to anything in our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights will have an impact, potentially, on the trade and co-operation agreement, because that specifically states that if we end judicial co-operation, there would be a problem. The Good Friday agreement also has the ECHR at the heart of it. Will the Home Secretary therefore tell us what conversations he has had with the European Union and the Irish about this legislation?

James Cleverly 

This legislation does not change our relationship with the ECHR.

Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)

Some in this House take the view that our proposals are not the way to treat asylum seekers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people we are talking about are arriving in this country from a safe country, France, and are mostly young men in their 20s and 30s who come here as economic migrants and not asylum seekers? It is important that that point is recognised.

James Cleverly 

This country has always been, and remains, incredibly generous to people who are fleeing persecution and seeking safe haven. We will continue to provide that, but it is also right that many people who attempt to come to this country do so to get a better economic life for themselves. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, we do not criticise people who seek to come to this country for economic reasons, but we make it clear that there are safe and legal routes for them to do so. This is about breaking the business model of evil people smugglers who prey on the people my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) speaks of. We are duty-bound to explore every way of breaking that evil model and that evil trade in human misery to ensure that we protect the people who need protecting by working with countries such as Rwanda that seek to do the right thing on the world stage.

Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)

Government briefings suggest that the Government wanted to go further with the Bill but the Rwandan Government stopped them. How does the Home Secretary feel about being legally constrained by President Kagame?

James Cleverly 

That speculation is not accurate. Within the whole of this negotiation, we have always made it clear that we would work within the boundaries of international law. Rwanda takes international law just as seriously as we do, which is why we are both completely comfortable that these proposals are within the bounds of international law.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

Over the past few years, we have taken over half a million refugees from different parts of the world—women, children and others—from countries in extreme difficulties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we can stop people being trafficked across the channel in small boats, we may well be able to help more of those who are genuinely in the most danger?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is so important for us to break the trade in human misery being perpetrated by the people smugglers. This is a generous country. We do not want the people smugglers to abuse and erode that generosity. That is why getting this right and working with Rwanda is so important, and why I am proud of how hard the Rwandans have worked to ensure that their institutions are robust, fair and impartial.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

I want to know how much this shambles has cost the British taxpayer so far and how much it will continue to cost us. The treaty means that we would be obliged to support someone in Rwanda for up to five years. What estimate has the Home Secretary made, under the terms of the treaty, of how much it will cost to support just one person for the full five years?

James Cleverly 

Again, I find this rather strange. As the House knows, I have already answered that in saying that it will be reported in accordance with the commitments that have already been made. However, I do think it is interesting how uncomfortable Opposition Members are with our having a partnership with an African country rather than an aid relationship. The mask has slipped on how the Labour party views countries such as Rwanda, which are advancing and developing and which seek to be treated as partners rather than just recipients of aid.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

The UK-Rwanda partnership is a long-standing one. I first went to the country 15 years ago and have returned many times since, including when I was serving as Africa Minister. How many of the Opposition Members who are railing against the deal or the judges who have criticised the deal have been to the now Commonwealth country of Rwanda?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend asks an incredibly important question. I have recently returned from Rwanda. I have had extensive dealings with the Rwandan Government—a Commonwealth partner, as she said. It is a country whose political leadership in many, perhaps most, cases have themselves been refugees. They have huge pride in their country and a plan to see it genuinely step up and be a serious player on the world stage. This partnership with the UK is part of Rwanda’s plan for development and advancement. We should support countries such as Rwanda, which are seeking to solve the world’s problems rather than being part of the world’s problems.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

I am afraid that I have heard nothing from the Home Secretary today that persuades me that the Rwanda policy is anything other than immoral, expensive and unworkable. Earlier today, his predecessor told the House that she believed that if the policy did not work, the Conservative party would face “electoral oblivion”. I wonder whether the Home Secretary accepts that it could be facing that situation because the policy is unworkable.

James Cleverly 

Obviously, my plan is to make this work.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on his commendable efforts to address a problem that is a major source of concern to all our constituents by concluding the treaty with Rwanda and publishing the Bill today. The Bill, as he will anticipate, will be closely scrutinised by colleagues, and I am sure he will be happy to answer questions, but could he assist me with one point? Clause 4(1)(b) specifically allows a court to consider an appeal

“on the grounds that…Rwanda is not a safe country for the person in question”,

based on that individual’s particular circumstances. Can my right hon. Friend say why that clause was inserted in the Bill, and can he assure the House that it does not in any sense frustrate the Bill’s intent?

James Cleverly 

I can give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that we do not envisage that this will frustrate the Bill’s intent. It is important that claimants do have recourse, if only for factual errors. We are absolutely confident that the numerous measures that Rwanda has taken mean that it is in fact a safe country for the purposes of asylum, because of the capacity building that we and others have done with its judicial system and because of its treaty commitment on non-refoulement. Therefore, we are absolutely confident that this will go forward, but it is of course right that there have to be mechanisms for individual cases.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

Can the Home Secretary confirm that he went to Rwanda intending to get a treaty that went much further than he has been allowed to go, and that what stopped him was that the Rwandan Government refused to be party to a treaty that did not recognise international law and conventions? What does it say about taking back control when Rwanda is dictating his immigration policy?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Member’s question started with an error, and got worse from that point onwards. The simple fact of the matter is that we have been working with the Rwandans. They do not dictate to us, and we do not dictate to them. We negotiate in good faith, as mature democracies tend to do.

Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

I thank the Home Secretary for his efforts to tackle a problem that is of great concern to my constituents in Sleaford and North Hykeham, and I welcome the assertion of parliamentary sovereignty because many of my constituents have questioned how courts can tell us what to do. However, there is a provision, as he says, for individual claims. Can he tell me in what circumstances such an individual claim could expect to be successful, and how long that and the appeal process would be expected to take?

James Cleverly 

The provision for individual claims is nothing to do with the safety of Rwanda, and that is the important distinction that needs to be made. Of course, there do need to be provisions for appeals—that is a normal part of any judicial or legal process—but the point is that in this Bill we are taking a huge step forward in our ability to work with Rwanda on refugee assessment, administration and ultimate relocation.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)

The ECHR is fundamental to the operation of our Senedd in Wales. Has the Home Secretary taken full account of the danger that his proposals may deal a fatal blow to devolution as it is at present?

James Cleverly 

We have no intention of leaving the ECHR, so the hon. Member’s concerns are unwarranted.

Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)

The Home Secretary has delivered his deal with his typical efficiency and transparency, and that should be welcomed, but one key aspect of immigration policy is the fast processing of claims in this country. Will he outline the progress the Government have made in that regard, and can he tell me and the House how it goes hand in hand with the Rwanda policy?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is part of a plan that has a number of elements. The speedy processing of asylum claims here in the UK is an important part of that. There has been a tenfold increase in the pace of asylum decisions, which is really important. That relieves pressure on asylum accommodation, which I know something about as the MP representing Wethersfield. We are absolutely determined that this plan, in conjunction with the other elements of our migration plan, will stop the boats, gain control of our borders and ensure that people know that those who come to the UK have done so through safe and legal routes, are adding to our society, are contributing to our economy, and know that they will be welcomed when they arrive.

Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

The Home Secretary has twice refused to answer the question of whether the Immigration Minister has resigned—but he has, hasn’t he? Has he resigned because he thinks that this policy does not stand an earthly chance of working, or has he resigned because he is embarrassed that a British Government would actually put Ministers above the law? In other words, has he resigned because he thinks this policy is crazy or because he does not think it is crazy enough?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman always has an amusing turn of phrase, but his question is not one for me. If he wants to know what any particular Member of the House is thinking, he should ask that Member of the House.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

I echo the Home Secretary’s praise of the patience shown by Rwanda, whose integrity has been severely impugned by those who oppose the treaty. The Strasbourg Court recently said that it was going to reform rule 39 indications, acknowledging their weaknesses. There would not be anonymous judges giving rulings, they would only be used in extremis and the Government would be allowed to put their case to weigh up the evidence. Rule 39 indications did not form part of the original European convention on human rights in any case, so how confident is my right hon. Friend that challenges to Rwandan deportations will not now fall foul of rule 39 interim orders under the terms of the new treaty?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which proves that, when the UK makes our case in international institutions such as the ECHR and others, we are listened to, our views are respected and changes are made. That is why reform of these institutions is important and is done, often because of the points that the UK makes. He is absolutely right: the legislation that supports the treaty, which is the really important element of this, will mean that we are much better able to send people who should not be in the UK to Rwanda for their asylum applications and to start a new life in a country that is increasingly well prepared humanely and effectively to home them.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)

The reality is that the Government are making a mockery of international law and playing with people’s lives. The Home Secretary referenced his plans to tackle illegal migration, but his plans for legal immigration are just as draconian. Doubling the minimum income requirement for family visas to £38,700, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of families will be torn apart, is nothing less than calculated, vindictive and punitive. Is the Home Secretary really prepared to tear up international law and tear families apart just so that he can throw some red meat to his hard-right Tory Back Benchers?

James Cleverly 

We are not breaking international law.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

Clearly, the most important thing about this proposal is to deter desperate people from leaving a safe country and making the riskiest journey possible across the busiest sea lane in the world. Can the Home Secretary update us on the position? The message that needs to go to the people smugglers and those desperate people is: “If you make this desperate journey you will be removed to Rwanda, a safe country, for processing”—and this is the key point—“from now on, not in many months’ time.”

James Cleverly 

My intention, and the intention of the Government, is to ensure that this is operationalised as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point: those people who have been smuggled across Europe by these people smugglers find themselves on the coast of France, a safe, prosperous and welcoming country, and are encouraged by those evil people smugglers to get on increasingly fragile and unseaworthy vessels to try to cross the busiest shipping lane in the world, at huge personal risk, in order to come to the UK. The message that they have to hear is, “Do not make that dangerous journey, because you will not be able to stay in the UK. If you want to come and live and work here, do so by the safe and legal routes that are available to you.”

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)

The Home Secretary has continuously said that this Bill complies with international law. How does he square that with the statement on the front of the Bill that he is

“unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”?

James Cleverly 

Because what the statement on the front of the Bill says is clear—the words are unambiguous —but I am also absolutely certain that we are in accordance with international law. The two are not interchangeable.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)

As I know all too well, it is easy to throw rocks and criticise from the sidelines on immigration; it is a lot harder to actually get on and deliver something. What has been published today brings up questions about the law and how it will be implemented —the practicalities of getting people to Rwanda—and a couple of points came to mind. First, if someone does appeal, would that appeal be non-suspensive of their transfer to Rwanda so that they could still be removed, pending a final decision on their claim? Secondly, on getting planes off the ground, we cannot put someone on just any plane to implement this, so has the Home Secretary raised with the Ministry of Defence the prospect that its aircraft might be used for the transfer?

James Cleverly 

As my hon. Friend will understand, I do not want to go into too much detail about all the operational procedures at this point, but I can reassure him that we are thinking about the logistics. Within Rwanda, there is a well-matured process whereby people can escalate their claims in a way that is completely consistent with international law. The Rwandans are very keen to demonstrate their conformity with international law, just as we are.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)

Four days before International Human Rights Day, it is shameful that we are seeking to disapply parts of the Human Rights Act for a certain group of people, and it make me feel incredibly sad. Does the Attorney General agree that the Rwanda treaty complies with international law, and can we see her written advice?

James Cleverly 

As the hon. Lady will know, the advice of the Attorney General—who is not in her place any more—is for Government. The Government have made it clear that this is in conformity with international law.

Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)

Will the legislation mean that it is the British Government, elected by the British people, who determine who comes to this country and in what circumstance, free from international and domestic judicial challenge and individual judicial review?

James Cleverly 

The point is that it is the job of this Government to make decisions about immigration policy. I reinforce the point that we are a generous country—we have proven that over and over again. We are an open-minded and generous people. This House reflects the attitude of the British people, which is one of generosity, but we also expect people to play by the rules. That is embodied in this piece of legislation, and I can confirm that our view is that it is the voice of this House that should determine our immigration policy, not anyone else.

Ashley Dalton (West Lancashire) (Lab)

The Home Office safeguarding Minister, the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), has confirmed on air that the Immigration Minister has resigned. Can the Home Secretary confirm that? Did he know about it?

James Cleverly 

That has been confirmed. I regularly speak to Ministers in the Department but, ultimately, these questions should be about the Bill rather than individual Members.

Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)

If the Immigration Minister, who is a good man, has resigned over this Bill, that is deeply worrying. I want to hear the verdict of the star chamber chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) but, while we await that verdict, the Home Secretary pointedly ducked several questions about individual appeals. Every person we would seek to send to Rwanda is an individual. If they can continue to appeal and appeal in order to delay being put on a flight, what is the point of the Bill?

James Cleverly 

The point is that all legal and judicial processes have an appeal process. By extension of my right hon. Friend’s argument, the point that there is an appeal process in UK criminal law, for example, would mean that no one ever goes to prison, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has just been discussing prison places.

The point is that an appeal process is an important part of any legal process. It will not preclude people from being sent to Rwanda. This is a robust scheme that strengthens our position and ensures that the decisions we make in this House—that he, I and others make in this House—define the UK’s immigration policy, not decisions made by unelected people elsewhere.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. I remind the Home Secretary to face forward, so that his voice is picked up more easily and so that people can see him.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

The Home Secretary and the Government will be aware that there has been some surprise at the reciprocal agreement to welcome Rwandan refugees to the United Kingdom. How can he demonstrate the safety of Rwanda as a third country while simultaneously accepting the conditions that produce refugees?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. This part of the treaty reflects the previous memorandum of understanding that has been in place for some time, and it is particularly tied to non-refoulement. It is envisaged that it will be used only in very exceptional circumstances, as I said in my statement. If there are circumstances where, for whatever reason, a refugee we have sent to Rwanda cannot remain there—these will be exceptionally rare cases—the only place they can be returned to will be the UK.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all these human rights laws were simply not designed for the massive problem of illegal, mainly economic migration that we face today, and that a review is urgently needed?

James Cleverly 

These frameworks, of which we were a founding nation, were designed to deal with some of the issues we saw in the mid-20th century, with often large numbers of people moving relatively short distances for a limited period of time to flee either persecution, abuse or conflict. We are now living in fundamentally different circumstances. There is an industrial-scale attempt to use those important, well-intentioned laws and frameworks to facilitate an evil trade, the like of which we probably have not seen since the dark days of the international slave trade. It is incumbent upon us to put in place frameworks that protect those people who are being manipulated, smuggled and abused by people smugglers. We are seeking to do that with our friends in Europe, Africa and other parts of the world.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)

If Rwanda is a safe jurisdiction, as the Home Secretary is trying to legislate to say that it is, can he explain why he believes there needs to be a provision in his Bill to override the powers of the courts?

James Cleverly 

The Supreme Court judgment to which we are responding highlighted two particular areas, and the treaty addresses both those areas. It is the actions that Rwanda has taken in regard to strengthening its institutions and the commitment it has made to non-refoulement that will enable us to say in the Bill, reflecting on the treaty, that it is a safe country for these purposes. As I said in my response to an earlier question, the UNHCR relies on Rwanda for its refugee processing and it is therefore clear through its actions, if not its words, that it also regards Rwanda is a good partner for these purposes.

Sir Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)

Like the Home Secretary, my constituents want to welcome genuine asylum seekers such as the Ukrainians and the Afghans who now live in my constituency. He will have detected some disquiet on the Conservative Benches about potential elements of the Bill, so will he assure the House we will be able to offer amendments that may improve it, if necessary?

James Cleverly 

The Bill will go through the House, and although we are seeking to do this at pace, it will go through the processes. I have no doubt that hon. and right hon. Members will want to put forward amendments and of course the Government will listen to all ideas that seek to improve the efficiency of the Bill.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)

Does the Home Secretary agree that our constituents would expect that, before we vote on any measure in this House, we thoroughly understand what it is going to cost? In the end, it is not our money we are spending; it is their money. Coming back to a question that he did not answer before, will he give a figure for how much it will cost this Government—our constituents—for each asylum seeker sent to Rwanda for the whole five years they are there? If he will not give us a figure now, will he agree to give a figure before we are asked to vote on the Bill?

James Cleverly 

The Government have committed to releasing the figures on an annual basis—[Interruption.] The point I would make to the House on dealing with migration, securing our borders and tackling international criminal gangs is that none of these things are for free. We do these things because it is the right thing to do. The money that this country spent on the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy to break the international slave trade was not a small amount of money, but it was the right thing to do. It broke an evil trade and we are committed to breaking this evil trade.

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the Immigration Minister, who has apparently just resigned, and thank him for all the hard work he has put into trying to resolve these issues over several years, including working on this Bill? Does my right hon. Friend feel that the Government will be inhibited in their implementing of the Bill by the absence of the Immigration Minister? Will he also answer the concern that been raised on several occasions during this exchange—namely, that the Bill might be fine for dealing with the issue of Rwanda as a safe country in general but that it does not deal with the issue of individuals who might want to make claims based on their own individual circumstances on why they should not go to Rwanda?

James Cleverly 

I have said from this Dispatch Box and in a number of other locations how much I value the work of the Immigration Minister. He has done a huge amount of work on this and in a number of other areas, and the work he has done to drive down small boat arrivals by a third has been absolutely instrumental. I have no doubt that the whole Government will work to ensure that this legislation achieves what I think we should all want to achieve, which is to break the business model of the people smugglers and to prevent people from being abused by them in an attempt to come and live in the UK.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

From the point of view of those of us who believe in the rule of law, the separation of powers and the universality of human rights, there are at least three extraordinary things about what the Home Secretary has said this evening. First, he says that he does not have confidence in the domestic courts of the United Kingdom because they cannot always be relied upon to do what he wants them to do. Secondly, he says that he will replace the jurisdiction of the domestic courts of the United Kingdom with ministerial fiat in relation to interim measures passed by a court presiding over a treaty to which we are fully signatories. Thirdly, as Jonathan Sumption has said, it is extraordinary for the law to say that the facts are other than they are, and then to oust the jurisdiction of the courts from determining whether that is the case. It is not just extraordinary; it is also not compliant with article 6, and of course the European convention on human rights is part of our domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act, which the Home Secretary is not repealing.

My question for the Home Secretary is this: is he proud of driving a coach and horses through the British constitution?

James Cleverly 

What I am absolutely proud of is the fact that we are seeking to break the business model of the people smugglers. We recognise that, as the threat from organised criminality and the tactics of people who prey on the weak and vulnerable and put their lives at risk evolve, so our response has to evolve. This is an international problem, and we are resolving it through international relationships. I am proud of the work that Rwanda has done to reform its institutions, with our support and the support of others. We on this side of the House will not rest until the people-smuggling gangs have been broken.

Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

I have been listening carefully to the questions from Opposition Members, and there have been a good many references to human rights, but surely the ultimate human right is the right to life. Does the Home Secretary agree that once this legislation is passed and comes into effect, fewer people will go to a watery grave in the English channel?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend has made a fundamental point. Every story I read of people who have drowned in the channel or the Mediterranean because their desire for a better life has been manipulated by criminals is heartbreaking, as I am sure it is for every Member of the House, and we are duty-bound to do something about it. Hand-wringing and stone-throwing from the Opposition Benches will not save those people’s lives, so we choose to take action. We choose to break the criminal gangs, and we are working with international partners in Africa, on the continent and elsewhere to break the business model of those gangs. Opposition Members can either help, or they can stand aside while we try to do the right thing and prevent people from dying in the seas.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)

The deputy chair of the Conservative Party has said that the Government should just ignore the law and send people back anyway. Does the Home Secretary agree with the deputy chair of his party, and if he does, can he tell us when the Conservative party became the party that ripped up laws and supported disorder?

James Cleverly 

We absolutely abide by international law.

Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)

Immigration, by any admission, is a complex, long-standing and developing challenge. I have listened carefully to the concerns, the obstacles and the different perspectives that have been raised this evening through questions, and I have also noticed the confidence with which my right hon. Friend has answered many of those questions. May I ask him to look ahead and say when he expects to be able to return to the House and declare the Bill a success?

James Cleverly 

The timing of the passage of any Bill is in the hands of the two Chambers of this Parliament. We are not in control of the total timescale, but of course we are determined to move quickly. Every day that we delay in addressing the criminality of organised criminal people-smuggling gangs, more people’s lives are put at risk. We intend to work quickly, and we seek the support of their lordships to move quickly, so that we can get a grip on this terrible situation and so that this set of proposals, in conjunction with the others that we are already implementing, can break the model of the people-smuggling gangs, save lives at sea, and encourage people who want to come to live and work in this country to do so by means of the numerous safe and legal routes that we have in place.

Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)

I am opposed to the entirety of the Bill on policy grounds, but, as a Northern Ireland MP, I have a particular duty to highlight the importance of the Human Rights Act to the Good Friday agreement, especially in respect of policing and justice reform; to article 2 of the Windsor framework; and to the policing and justice chapter of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement. May I ask the Home Secretary what steps his Department has taken to screen this policy and this Bill against all three of those?

James Cleverly 

We are absolutely committed to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. It is something that many people have spent their whole political lives pursuing and protecting. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will always seek to protect the peace that so many people have worked so hard to bring.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)

Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Biruta has said tonight:

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

Without lawful behaviour, Home Secretary? It is being reported in the press that the Rwandan Government are getting cold feet because this deal is too toxic for them. Is that the case?

James Cleverly 


Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)

The Home Secretary wants us to take great comfort from the fact that the treaty with Rwanda will be binding in international law. Then, in the next page of his statement, he assures us that next week he will bring in legislation that will, in certain circumstances, make it a legal requirement for British courts to act contrary to that same international law. How can he expect Rwanda to comply with its treaty obligations when his Government will pick and choose what treaties they comply with and what treaties they tear up?

James Cleverly 

We will absolutely remain in compliance with international law.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

The Home Secretary has used some choice language in this place, and in recent times he associated a particular favourite word of his to his own Government’s Rwanda policy. What specific changes have been made for him to become such a robust defender of it now?

James Cleverly 

I am not quite sure what the point of that question was, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman really wishes for me to do so, I can clarify the points I made that he refers to, but I suspect that he does not really want me to.

Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)

In her personal statement this afternoon, the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), said that she had been unable to obtain the support of other Government Departments for her preferred method of dealing with applicants for asylum. She said:

“we must build Nightingale-style detention facilities to deliver the necessary capacity… The only way to do this…is with the support of the Ministry of Defence.”

Russia is on manoeuvres, more than 20,000 British troops are being deployed across northern Europe next year, and the Conservative Government are seeking to shrink the Army to 73,000. Does the Home Secretary, who was the Foreign Secretary last month, think that our armed forces should be training for war or for kettling asylum seekers into camps?

James Cleverly 

Again, I am not at all sure how that question has anything to do with the proposals that we have put forward, but the hon. Gentleman will know that this party of Government will always support strong defence of this nation, unlike the Opposition parties.

Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

It is clear to the country that the Government are riven with division and chaos on this issue. Some still think that these plans are batshit, and some think that they do not go far enough, including the Immigration Minister, who has resigned. In an earlier answer today—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. Did the hon. Member just swear?

Alison Thewliss 

No, he quoted the Home Secretary!

Mr Deputy Speaker 

Order. Please use other words.

Neil Coyle 

Okay. In an earlier answer, the Home Secretary said that the Immigration Minister would be attending the Home Affairs Committee next Wednesday. Given that he has been embarrassed by his own team today, who will now be attending the Committee to take questions on this issue? Will it be him?

James Cleverly 

It will be the Immigration Minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker 

Thank you very much for your statement, Home Secretary, and for answering questions for well over an hour.