The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom decided on Wednesday that the government’s plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda was illegal, striking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a severe defeat ahead of an election next year.
Sunak said he was working on a new treaty with Rwanda and that if it did not address the problem, he would establish new laws and reconsider any international treaties that hampered his goals.
In order to prevent migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in tiny boats, Britain planned to transfer tens of thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on British beaches without authorization to the East African country under the proposal.
But the top court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that Rwanda could not be considered a safe third country, delighting opponents who said the policy was unworkable and cruel, and infuriating those on the right wing of Sunak’s Conservative Party.
Sunak, whose party is trailing by some 20 points in opinion polls, signalled to those angry lawmakers that Britain could potentially leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other such treaties as some have demanded.
“If it becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions are still frustrating plans at that point, I am prepared to change our laws and revisit those international relationships,” Sunak told parliament.
“The British people expect us to do whatever it takes to stop the boats.”
The Rwanda scheme has been the central plank of Sunak’s immigration policy as he prepares to face an election next year, amid rising concern among some voters about the numbers of asylum seekers from Europe.
The ruling had taken on even greater political significance after Sunak on Monday sacked Interior Minister Suella Braverman, a popular figure on his party’s right whose remit included dealing with immigration.
She launched a scathing attack on Sunak on Tuesday, saying he had broken promises on tackling immigration and betrayed the British people.