Suella Braverman: No flights before election under PM's Rwanda plan

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman

The PM's current Rwanda plan will mean no asylum seekers are flown there before the next election, sacked home secretary Suella Braverman has said.

Writing in the Telegraph, she said "tinkering with a failed plan" would not achieve the government's aims.

She said ministers should ignore human rights laws and obligations in their "entirety" to push it through.

But ex-cabinet minister Damian Green called this the "most unconservative proposal I've ever heard".

A former First Secretary of State under Theresa May, Mr Green told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that overriding legal constraints was the behaviour of "dictators" like Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a ruling on the government's scheme to fly some asylum seekers to Rwanda, the Supreme Court said there were "substantial grounds" to believe that some of those deported to the country could be sent back to places where they would be unsafe.

After the judgement, Rishi Sunak announced he would bring in emergency legislation to certify that Rwanda was a "safe" country, despite the court's decision.

The prime minister also said he would sign a new treaty with Rwanda, so that the first flights could begin in the spring.

'Plan B'

But Mrs Braverman said a new treaty was "magical thinking," repeating the language of her scathing letter to Mr Sunak after he sacked her.

The proposed treaty would not solve "the fundamental issue", that the UK's highest court had found Rwanda unsafe for deporting asylum seekers, she argued.

Mrs Braverman, who was sacked as home secretary on Monday, said that unless the prime minister went further than his current proposals, she could not see how the government could deliver on its pledge before running out of Parliamentary time.

A general election is expected to be held next year and one must take place by January 2025.

"Any new treaty would still require going back through the courts, a process that would likely take at least another year," she said.

She added that the process "could culminate in yet another defeat".

"That is why the plan outlined by the PM will not yield flights to Rwanda before an election if Plan B is simply a tweaked version of the failed Plan A," she said.

Mrs Braverman said the PM's proposed legislation should ignore "the entirety" of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as well as other relevant international obligations including the Refugee Convention.

Mrs Braverman's arguments have been supported by some of her colleagues.

Former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said parliament was "entitled in extremis to say certain sections of the law are disapplied".

He argued it was wrong that "our human rights framework" was blocking the government's ability to police the UK's borders.

The Rwanda policy is central to Mr Sunak's plan to stop asylum seekers crossing the English Channel in small boats - one of his key pledges - as it is designed to deter people from making the dangerous journey.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told BBC Breakfast that the government was "committed" to getting the Rwanda policy working by the spring.

Any new legislation is expected to face strong opposition in the House of Lords, which contains several current and former Supreme Court judges. It would also be likely to face legal challenges in the courts.

'Black is white'

Sir David Normington, former Home Office permanent secretary, told Today that Mrs Braverman was "right in one way" - that getting a working Rwanda policy "would be very difficult".

"We could pull out of all conventions, but that would be a very bad idea," he said, adding that it would always come down to a British court deciding whether Rwanda was safe.

"The courts say it is not a safe country. You can't say black is white."

Asked if international law was "outdated", Sir David said that "at the core" international agreements were written to protect the vulnerable.

"What is true is that the rights of people to not be tortured never goes out of date."

Analysis box by Dominic Casciani, home and legal correspondent
Analysis box by Dominic Casciani, home and legal correspondent

It's not immediately clear how Mrs Braverman's plan would legally work quickly.

The UK and other countries that are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights can put to one side only some of its protections in times of war or some other emergency. The key protection at the heart of the Rwanda case - that nobody should be subjected to torture or to inhuman treatment - is not one of the rights that can be swept away in what's known as "derogation".

The UK has only derogated from the ECHR eight times in 70 years. Seven of those situations were related to detaining paramilitaries during the conflict in Northern Ireland. The most recent in 2001 concerned holding al-Qaeda suspects without charge - a move that the courts later said was illegal.

During Boris Johnson's time as prime minister, the government proposed limiting and replacing some human rights protections in a highly-criticised replacement bill which Rishi Sunak then scrapped.

Leaving the ECHR entirely would separately breach the 25-year-old Good Friday Agreement at the heart of Northern Ireland's power-sharing peace deal - and enrage the UK's partners on the other side of the English Channel - potentially making co-operation on stopping boats harder.