Britain’s controversial plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda was struck down by the Supreme Court Wednesday, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy on migration and setting up an anticipated revolt from the right wing of his Conservative party.
The UK’s highest court ruled unanimously against the government, siding instead with a previous appeals court ruling that found the policy – which has been roundly condemned by humanitarian bodies – was unlawful.
It scuppers an effort to fly asylum-seekers who arrive in the UK illegally to the east African nation. The plan was first announced in April 2022, but has been wrought with legal challenges and has failed to deport a single person.
The ruling is expected to lead to calls from the right of the Conservative Party to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a prospect that has loomed over the government for months and has caused deep rifts between left and right in Britain’s ruling party.
Judges found that Rwanda could not be considered a safe country to which to send asylum seekers, as the government has argued, because there was a risk that genuine refugees would be returned to the countries they had fled from.
The scheme was unveiled in response to a soaring number of perilous small boat crossings made by asylum seekers across the English Channel. The rate of crossings has risen rapidly in recent years, a trend Sunak has pledged to reverse.
The Rwanda plan was unveiled by former Home Secretary Priti Patel and backed by her successor, Suella Braverman, who was fired from the post on Monday after a string of controversies.
But it has been a costly and public failure for three successive prime ministers. The UK has paid the Rwandan government £140 million ($177 million) for the proposal, the BBC reported.
No flights have taken place; the first scheduled flight to Rwanda was stopped at the 11th hour last year, following an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, and months of legal challenges then stalled the program.
This is a breaking story. It will be updated.