UK immigration minister Robert Jenrick has tendered his resignation over the new government legislation concerning the Rwanda asylum transfer scheme, citing that the proposed law “falls short of expectations.”
The government’s plan to transfer certain asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their claims to Rwanda has faced legal challenges since its announcement in April 2022. Despite successive attempts by three Home Secretaries to push the policy forward, the UK Supreme Court ruled the scheme unlawful in a November judgment.
In a critical blow to the proposal, Jenrick, working within the Home Office, expressed his inability to support the latest draft bill through the legislative process. He stated that he does not believe it provides sufficient measures to ensure the success of the policy.
Jenrick emphasized in his resignation letter, “The nation’s stakes are too high to not pursue stronger protections needed to end the incessant legal challenges that risk derailing the scheme and undermining its intended deterrence.”
Previously, Jenrick had pledged to take robust action against illegal migration, even advocating for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) if necessary.
Several hardline lawmakers within Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, have urged the UK’s exit from the human rights treaty, citing it as a barrier impeding the Rwanda policy.
Although the legislation unveiled on Wednesday did not withdraw the UK from the treaty, it included a crucial caveat. Home Secretary James Cleverley stated uncertainty regarding the legislation’s compatibility with Convention rights on its initial page.
The bill also excludes specific sections of the UK Human Rights Act, which incorporates ECHR rights into domestic law. Additionally, a clause asserts the bill’s sovereignty, remaining unaffected by key international law instruments, including the ECHR and the Refugee Convention.
The government’s move has faced severe criticism from Britain’s opposition Labour Party, labeling it as the third draft legislation presented to parliament. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused the government of being in “total chaos,” urging a focus on combatting criminal gangs involved in smuggling individuals to the UK.
Legal experts like Professor Mark Elliot from the University of Cambridge criticized the bill as “hypocritical” and suggested it presupposes Rwanda’s adherence to international obligations while allowing the UK to breach its own commitments.
The Rwandan government issued a warning to the UK, threatening to withdraw from the arrangement if international law is not respected. Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta emphasized that the Migration and Economic Development Partnership could not continue without the UK’s lawful conduct.
The bill will now progress to the next phase, where UK lawmakers will debate its merits in parliament during the “second reading.”