The home secretary slammed “feigned humanity” hampering efforts to stop the Channel crossing as the government lost a recent court battle over its plans to send migrants to Rwanda.
Suella Braverman claimed the system had been “rigged against the British people” after the Court of Appeal ruled the multimillion-dollar deal that saw the deportation of asylum seekers to the East African country was unlawful.
Ministers are braced for a renewed clash in court over the policy, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he disagreed “in principle” with the decision and confirmed the government would seek to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
In a majority decision on Thursday, Court of Appeal judges overturned a previous Supreme Court ruling that found Rwanda could be considered a “safe third country”.
The decision is the latest setback in Mr Sunak’s attempt to “stop the boats” – one of his key promises.
Ms Braverman said she remains “fully committed” to the policy and despite the ruling insists she still has “complete faith” in the plan, but stressed Rwanda is a safe country.
Asked whether she blamed “left-wing lawyers” or “the blob” for the defeat, she told broadcasters: “The system is against the British people, it’s as simple as that.”
“That’s why we’re changing the laws through our Illegal Migration Act.”
She then reinforced her allegations in the House of Commons, telling MPs that “false humanity” was holding back plans to fight the Channel crossings.
But Labor said the decision showed the Government’s efforts were “utterly failing”.
Describing the policy as a “headline-grabbing gimmick”, Sir Keir Starmer told the PA news agency during a visit to North Yorkshire: “The court’s ruling shows they have spent £140million of taxpayers’ money without even doing the basics to see if the concept really serves its purpose.”
His deputy, Angela Rayner, said there were “more conservative home secretaries in Rwanda when asylum seekers were sent there”, while shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the House of Commons the policy was a “total swindle on the British people”.
In the 161-page judgment following the appeal heard in April, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill concluded that “deficiencies” in Rwanda’s asylum system mean there is a “real risk” that asylum-seekers will be returned to their home country and could be persecuted there or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good right to asylum.
“Our conclusion on the security of the Rwanda issue means that the Rwanda policy must be declared illegal,” Sir Geoffrey added.
Mr Sunak said: “While I respect the court, I fundamentally disagree with its conclusions.
“I firmly believe that the Rwandan government has given the necessary assurances to ensure there is no real risk of asylum seekers resettled under Rwanda policy being wrongly returned to third countries – something the Chief Justice agrees with.”
The Rwandan government said it had “problems” with the Court of Appeal’s decision, stressing that Rwanda is “one of the safest countries in the world”.
Downing Street refused to say if it still expects migrants to be sent to Rwanda ahead of the next election.
Chief Justice Lord Burnett announced the decision during a brief hearing in London, stressing the court had come to its conclusion on the law and had “absolutely no opinion” on the political merits of the policy.
However, in the ruling he called the government’s claims that the plan could result in thousands of people being sent to Rwanda as “political exaggeration” and instead concluded that it may only amount to hundreds.
Ms Braverman later told MPs that Rwanda had the capacity needed for the plans.
According to preliminary figures from the Home Office, 11,279 people have been spotted crossing the English Channel so far this year.
More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel since the government signed the Rwanda Accord over a year ago.
Then-Home Secretary Priti Patel signed what she called the “world’s first” accord on April 14. Between April 15, 2022 and June 28, 2023, 51,206 migrants were registered making the trip, according to PA analysis of government figures.
Meanwhile, the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which aims to boost powers to deal with the problem, suffered a series of defeats during its passage through the House of Lords.
The flagship bill, already passed by the lower house, saw four government defeats in the upper house on Wednesday.
The latest court ruling comes in the wake of the release of a critical report by the Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration, who conducted an assessment of his work on deporting foreign offenders at the Home Office and concluded that there was no “single version of the truth”.
Another Council of Europe report found that migrants taken to the Manston processing center in Kent last year may have been subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture said “excited” arrivals were handcuffed “in a small, box-like, fenced-off area” in the back of a van.
The court ruling also comes just days after the Home Office’s own figures showed the government could spend £169,000 on each asylum seeker who is forcibly deported to a third country like Rwanda.
Almost two in five people would need to be prevented from crossing the English Channel in small boats for the illegal migration law to break even, according to the Economic Impact Assessment published on Monday.
The £169,000 cost includes flights and detention and a payment of £105,000 per person to third countries, although the total is an estimate and is not based on the actual cost of the “economically sensitive” Rwanda programme.
The document said the asylum system could cost £32million a day by the end of 2026 if recent trends continue without a reduction in hotel use.
Activists welcomed the appeal ruling and the charity Asylum Aid, which filed the lawsuit alongside several asylum seekers, called the decision “an affirmation of the importance of the rule of law and fundamental justice when fundamental rights are at stake”.
There is a “deliberately tight timetable” to decide the consequences of the judgment so that any requests for an appeal by the Supreme Court can be “decided on in a timely manner,” Lord Burnett said.