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© © Marie-Anne Ventoura / Amnesty International UK

Yesterday, the Government finally got its Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill through Parliament. Only the King’s formal assent is left before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament – i.e., a source of UK law of the highest order. 

The Bill has bounced between the two Houses of Parliament several times. Parliamentarians have called it “vile”, “disgusting”, even “a turd”. The Government has lost 24 votes. And after all this Parliament has passed the Bill with all its provisions that were initially presented by ministers entirely unchanged. 

Before asking what’s next, stock must be taken of what has been done by passing this ‘law’. 

Disdain for people 

The Act’s purpose is to permit the Government to expel people seeking asylum on UK soil to a place they do not know, have no connection, and have not sought sanctuary. 

The aim – notwithstanding attempts to present this as saving life or discouraging criminality – is simply to avoid this country taking its own responsibilities for people who have escaped war, torture, and other oppression. 

People transported to Rwanda may have family, friends, or other connections in the UK. Along with their traumas of abuse, exploitation, and terrifying journeys, this is to be ignored.  

Meantime, tens of thousands of people are to be stuck indefinitely in limbo on the basis they may one day be transported to Rwanda – or someplace else if the Government can strike deals with other countries – unless people agree to return to places where they fear persecution. 

Disdain for law 

The immediate cause for the Act was the UK Supreme Court’s judgment last November that the plan to expel people to Rwanda was unsafe.  

Notwithstanding promises of the Rwandan Government, the court’s assessment of the evidence was that refugees transported to Rwanda faced a real risk of being sent on to the very torturers and persecutors from whom they had fled. 

The Act’s explicit purpose is to override the court’s ruling and prohibit any court from ever again reaching such a conclusion, let alone giving effect to it by preventing expulsions to Rwanda – no matter what the evidence may show. 

To achieve its purpose, the Act will declare, as a matter of law, that Rwanda is safe. It will state this accords with all law – UK and international. And it will bar any official and any court from coming to any different conclusion no matter what evidence is available now or in future.  

This makes mockery of the UK’s constitutional and legal systems by treating Parliament as sovereign over fact and truth (also over international law), and requiring courts to affirm this plain falseness.  

As others have highlighted, Parliament is free to declare the sky green or cats to be dogs, but it cannot make these or any other untruths true. Exercising its law-making authority in an attempt to do so and requiring compliance with that is straightforwardly authoritarian. 

Disdain for the world 

At the heart of what Parliament is doing in passing this Act is a profound disrespect for other nations and peoples. 

Parliament has sought to unilaterally tell the world the meaning of laws made by the nations of the world.  

Parliament has endorsed the Government’s unilateral abandonment of legal agreements this country has made with others – even while expecting those others to continue abiding by those same laws. 

By these means, other countries are to be required to take the UK’s asylum responsibilities on top of their own. The UK is not only refusing to share responsibility with others, it is deliberately choosing to pass its responsibilities on. 

This seriously undermines the global refugee system. It invites other countries to disregard their asylum obligations – whether in the same way as the UK or in other ways. The risk of this is exacerbated because many countries, including many much poorer ones like Rwanda, are already host to disproportionately large refugee populations compared to the UK. 

The UK’s disdain for law – its own constitutional and legal systems, and international law – provides further incentive or excuse for authoritarianism the world over. Ironically, this can only increase the prospects that more people are forced to seek asylum from persecution – including in the UK. 

So, what is next? 

Campaigners and others will continue efforts to secure the repeal of this Act, for Government to refrain from using the Act, and for airlines to refuse to carry people seeking asylum to Rwanda.  

And there will be legal challenges... 

However, Government and Parliament have put the courts in an invidious position of having to choose between bowing to a false assertion by Parliament that something is true simply because Parliament says so or rejecting what Parliament has done.  

It is not only ministers and their supporters who will insist the courts must bow because Parliament is sovereign – but the question is not whether Parliament is sovereign but rather over what is it sovereign? The answer is not truth

If Parliament makes mockery of itself by asserting the sky is in fact green, are courts required to make mockery of themselves by acting as if that is true? 

Sadly, however and whenever this absurdity is finally put to bed, Government and Parliament will have done severe damage in the UK to respect for law and its constitutional arrangements, and to respect for the UK across the world.  

Meantime, some people who have already suffered far more than most of us – including ministers and parliamentarians – can ever imagine, will have been subjected to significantly more harm by those who ought to have secured their safety.