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Photography Moeez Ali

Suella Braverman’s Rwanda plan has been defeated... for now

The Supreme Court has ruled the Tory’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful – but the battle isn’t over yet

In what is a major defeat for the Tories, the government’s controversial plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. Given that ‘stopping the boats’ was a big part of Rishi Sunak’s political programme, the decision has dealt a damaging blow to his credibility. It’s also yet another L for Suella Braverman, who was sacked from her position as home secretary earlier in the week.

Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, said that the plan put refugees at risk of being sent back to the countries from which they have fled (citing the past failure of a similar arrangement between Israel and Rwanda). He also said that Rwanda itself has a poor human rights record, which means that it cannot be deemed a safe third country. The plan has previously been criticised as especially dangerous for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, putting them at risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.

After the ruling was announced, the Rwandan government said that it “takes issue” with the characterisation of Rwanda as “not a safe third country”, but allowed that it was a matter for the UK courts to decide. The government has already spent £140 million on the Rwanda plan, and some hard-right Tory politicians are keen to do it anyway, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision: Tory MP Lee Anderson said that ministers should go ahead and “put planes in the air” to Rwanda. This isn’t impossible but it would be a pretty drastic step, which would require the UK to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, there is a danger that Britain radically alters its approach to international law, which wouldn’t be great...

Rishi Sunak issued a statement saying that the government is considering what to do next, and noted that the Supreme Court ruled that the principle of sending migrants to a third country is lawful. This could mean that the government will look to carry out a similar scheme with a different location. The recently passed Illegal Migration Act lists a number of countries where people could have their asylum claims processed, many of which have their own problems with human rights and, again, pose a particular danger to LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.

But for now, refugee organisations are hailing the decision as a victory. Leila Zadeh, executive director at Rainbow Migration said in a statement: “This is a day for national celebration. The judges at the UK’s highest court have stopped this trade in humans and many people in the UK who have fled unimaginable horrors can breathe a sigh of relief.”

According to Sebastian Rocca, CEO of Micro Rainbow, “Former home secretary Suella Braverman’s commitment to pushing ahead with the Rwanda plan risked turning the UK into a country famous for its cruel policies and attitudes towards people who need safety. We, and everyone we work with, are very happy that it has finally been found unlawful.”