UK government efforts to stop the boats and tackle illegal migration took a major step forward, after the Safety of Rwanda Bill completed its passage through Parliament overnight, Monday 22 April.  

The Bill’s passing means the government can enter the final phase of operational planning to get flights off the ground to Rwanda, pioneering a new response to the global challenge of illegal migration.  

Robust operational plans are in place to ensure a first flight to Rwanda can be delivered within 10-12 weeks, with multiple flights set to take off after this.  

The landmark legislation means that going forward, Rwanda should be deemed a safe country for the purposes of relocating people, including in UK courts and tribunals.   

It will prevent legal challenges from being used to delay or halt a person’s removal to Rwanda on the grounds that Rwanda is generally unsafe, or that an individual will be returned to an unsafe country after removal to Rwanda – an act known as refoulement.    

The Bill makes it unambiguously clear that UK Parliament is sovereign, and the validity of any Act of Parliament is unaffected by international law. Ministers will be able to retain the decision on whether to comply with interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights, for example, a Rule 39 injunction.   

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:    

This vital legislation means we can now proceed with our Rwanda plan and begin removing people with no right to be here.   

The only way to stop the boats is to eliminate the incentive to come – by making clear that if you are here illegally, you will not be allowed to stay.   

Our policy does exactly that and plans are well under way to begin flights within 10-12 weeks.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street CC BY 2.0 DEED

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

The passing of this landmark legislation it not just a step forward but a fundamental change in the global equation on migration.

We introduced the Rwanda Bill to deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them. The passing of this legislation will allow us to do that and make it very clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.

Our focus is to now get flights off the ground, and I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives.

The government is ready to deliver a first relocation flight and teams are working at pace to prepare. This includes: 

  • an airfield on standby and commercial charter planes booked for specific slots
  • detention spaces increased to 2,200
  • 200 trained dedicated caseworkers are ready and waiting to quickly process claims
  • the judiciary have made available 25 courtrooms to deal with any legal cases quickly and decisively
  • to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda, we have 500 highly trained individuals ready, with 300 more trained in the coming weeks.

Responding to the concerns raised by the Supreme Court, the Safety of Rwanda Bill was introduced in December last year and builds upon the UK-Rwanda Treaty.  

Together, these measures and evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, will allow government to implement the policy, supporting the wider plan to stop the boats by removing the incentive to come here illegally.   

The new law, which is one of the toughest pieces of legislation ever introduced, builds upon the Treaty, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments relocated to Rwanda in accordance with the Treaty. It also:   

  • confirms that, with the new Treaty, Rwanda is safe
  • prevents UK courts and tribunals from delaying or preventing a person’s removal to Rwanda on matters relating only to the general safety of Rwanda
  • allows for an exceptionally narrow route to individual challenge to ensure that the courts will interpret the relevant provisions in accordance with the will of Parliament
  • disapplies relevant sections of the Human Rights Act 1998
  • confirms that only a Minister of the Crown can decide whether to comply with an interim measure issued by the European Court of Human Rights.

In November 2023, the Supreme Court upheld the lawfulness of resettling illegal migrants for the purposes of determining their asylum claims, but required more assurance that they would not be refouled.   

The internationally binding Treaty between Rwanda and the UK was announced by the Government in response to this finding and introduces measures to make clear Rwanda will not return anyone to an unsafe country.   

Under the Treaty, Rwanda has also introduced a strengthened end-to-end asylum system, including a new, specialist asylum appeals tribunal to consider individual appeals against any refused claims. It will have two co-presidents, from Rwanda and from another Commonwealth country, and be made up of judges from a mix of nations. 

The Treaty also enhances the role of the independent Monitoring Committee, which will ensure adherence to obligations under the Treaty and have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring.   

But this significant step forward remains just one part of the government’s wider plan to stop the boats. The Government say: “Solid progress has been made, with the number of small boat arrivals falling by more than a third in 2023. Our work with international partners prevented more than 26,000 crossings last year, as well as helping to dismantle 82 organised crime groups since July 2020.” 

The UK’s new agreement with Albania has cut Albanian small boat arrivals by more than 90 per cent; and we recently signed a ground-breaking deal with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, marking another crucial step in securing our borders.   

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in the coming days.

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