James Cleverly signs new Rwanda treaty in effort to revive UK asylum plan

British home secretary declines to guarantee that deportation flights of refugees will take off before next year’s general election

The British government has revealed the centrepiece of its new plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, which it hopes will satisfy the restless right wing of Tory party as well as evade the sort of legal challenges that felled its previous attempt at an immigration deal with the African nation.

James Cleverly, Britain’s home secretary, said he could now see no “credible reason” why the plan could be blocked by legal challenges. He declined, however, to guarantee that deportation flights of refugees from Britain to Rwanda would take off before the UK’s general election next year.

Mr Cleverly travelled to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, on Tuesday to sign a new international treaty between Britain and the African country. Rwanda has agreed to accept asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally, such as on small boat crossings from France. Instead of having their asylum applications processed in the UK, the aim is to ship them straight to Rwanda instead.

The new treaty is designed to overcome legal obstacles arising from the supreme court’s rejection on human rights grounds last month of a previous version of the plan.


The new version must also overcome the reservations of hardline Tory factions such as the New Conservatives, who have pushed for the government to withdraw from international human rights legislation to toughen immigration law. Elements of the new plan will need to pass in the House of Commons, giving hardliners sway over the government should they decide to rebel.

The main element of the treaty is that it ends the risk that an asylum seeker whose application fails could be deported to another third country: this risk was one of the main reasons why the previous plan, based not on a treaty but on a memorandum of understanding, was rejected by the courts.

Under the new treaty asylum seekers to the UK will be allowed to stay in Rwanda permanently, whether or not their application is successful. The only country to which they can be removed is back to Britain.

Asylum seekers will get free legal aid while British taxpayers will also pay Rwanda a fee, as yet undisclosed, to support the new arrivals for up to five years.

An appeals body will be set up with judges who can come from Rwanda or countries abroad, including Britain. Some British officials may also be seconded to the African nation to help administer the system.

The treaty is the second major immigration initiative by Mr Cleverly this week, after Monday’s announcement of a crackdown on rules around salary limits for issuing British visas to foreign workers. Foreign care workers will also no longer be allowed to bring their families to Britain.

The third leg of the British government’s latest attempt to tackle immigration is expected later this week, with the publication of legislation to give effect to the Rwanda deal. It is expected to include a measure voted on by parliament that declares Rwanda to be a safe country to send refugees, addressing another legal obstacle from last month’s supreme court judgment.

“We’ve got an arsenal of responses [to tackle rising immigration]. We are pursuing all of them,” said Mr Cleverly.

Meanwhile, the anti-immigration Reform UK party is pursuing Tory voters. Research released on Tuesday by Redfield & Wilton Strategies suggests that up to 15 per cent of 2019 Tory voters have decided to back Reform at the next election.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times