Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said the Prime Minister’s new Rwanda Bill ‘risks untold damage’ to the UK’s international reputation.
The Bill and a freshly-signed treaty with Rwanda aim to prevent further legal challenges to plans to deport asylum seekers to Africa after last year’s Supreme Court ruling against the scheme.
In response to the committee’s blast at the draft legislation, the PM’s official spokesman stressed ‘bold and innovative solutions’ were needed to deal with Channel migrant crossings.
‘There’s nothing compassionate about turning a blind eye to illegal immigration,’ he said, adding that the Bill was the ‘best way’ to stop migrants making perilous journeys in small boats.
But Mr Sunak faced fresh embarrassment over his new Rwanda plan after his illegal migration minister was revealed to have warned it breaks human rights law.
Leaked documents showed how Michael Tomlinson advised that ignoring orders by Strasbourg judges blocking deportation flights would breach the European Convention of Human Rights.
In his new push to get the migration plan finally up and running, the PM has said he is now prepared to defy ECHR judges and won’t allow a ‘foreign court’ to prevent flights taking off
A group of people suspected to be migrants travel in an inflatable boat across the Channel, bound for Dover on the south coast of England
The Rwanda Bill seeks to compel judges to regard Rwanda as safe. But the Joint Committee on Human Rights said they had heard evidence that the problems identified by the Supreme Court could not be resolved so quickly.
‘We are not persuaded that Parliament can be confident that Rwanda is now safe,’ their new report said.
‘In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.’
They also warned that provisions in the draft legislation to try and prevent asylum seekers’ appeals against deportation to Rwanda made the Bill incompatible with Britain’s international obligations.
Joint committee chairwoman Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP, said: ‘This Bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court.
‘Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.’
Responding to the committee’s criticism, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘We have always been clear and this Government has been clear that tackling major global challenges – including legal migration – will require bold and innovative solutions.
‘And that is what the Rwanda scheme does. It’s the best way, the Bill and the treaty alongside it, are the best way to get flights off the ground to Rwanda deterring vulnerable people from taking those perilous journeys.
‘As we said before, there’s nothing compassionate about turning a blind eye to illegal immigration, which means obviously more people take those perilous journeys across the Channel
‘The Bill we’ve introduced and the treaty alongside it are the best way to provide the deterrent needed to ensure that we stop illegal migration altogether.’
Downing Street’s defence of the Rwanda Bill came after it emerged Mr Tomlinson had warned that ignoring orders by the European Court of Human Rights would breach human rights law.
A Rule 39 measure issued by the Strasbourg-based court grounded the Government’s first planned deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022.
In his new push to get the migration plan finally up and running, the PM has said he is now prepared to defy ECHR judges and won’t allow a ‘foreign court’ to prevent flights taking off.
But documents, seen by the Telegraph, showed how Mr Tomlinson warned ignoring Rule 39 orders – also known as ‘pyjama injunctions’ due to their often late-night nature – would put Britain in defiance of its obligations under international law.
Michael Tomlinson advised that ignoring orders by Strasbourg judges blocking deportation flights would breach the European Convention of Human Rights
A Rule 39 measure issued by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights grounded the Government’s first planned deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022
Mr Tomlinson’s advice on plans to ignore Rule 39 orders was issued when he held his previous Government role as Solicitor General.
The documents stated: ‘The Attorney General and Solicitor General agreed that interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights under Rule 39 of the rules of court are binding as a matter of international law and there is no respectable argument to the contrary.’
Mr Tomlinson was Solicitor General for England and Wales – one of the Government’s top law officers – between September 2022 and December last year.
He was then moved to the Home Office to the newly-created role of minister for countering illegal migration following Robert Jenrick’s explosive resignation as immigration minister.
A source close to Home Secretary James Cleverly stressed that Mr Tomlinson’s advice was ‘a year old’ and did not take into account Mr Sunak’s new treaty with Rwanda and his new Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.
They told the newspaper: ‘This advice is a year old. It does not, and could not have factored in the verdict of the Supreme Court, the new treaty with Rwanda, and the Bill currently progressing through Parliament, one we believe is compliant with our obligations to international law.’
A Government source added: ‘Michael Tomlinson is working flat out to stop the boats and won’t be distracted by leaks that are old and outdated.
‘It’s his job to take each case as it comes, and he’ll do exactly that.’
But Conservative critics of Mr Sunak’s new Rwanda plan – who wanted the Bill to be toughened to state that Rule 39 orders are not binding and to require ministers to ignore them – delivered a fresh blast at the PM’s strategy.
A senior Tory MP said: ‘This is the problem we have with this policy. It’s just an attempt to kick all the problems down the road until they come back and hit us twice as hard.
‘It’s delusional to think you don’t have to block off all Strasbourg pyjama injunctions and can still get enough people to Rwanda.’
It comes as peers in the House of Lords are set to begin their detailed examination of Mr Sunak’s new Rwanda Bill this afternoon.
The legislation aimed at reviving the stalled deportation policy is expected to face numerous changes in the upper chamber, where some fiercely oppose it, setting up an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords.