TL;DR: As the Conservative government's flagship policy was found to be unlawful in the UK's highest court, LGBTQIA+, migrant and refugee groups rejoiced. But the embattled prime minister has now shifted his attention and consideration towards what many right-wing conservatives really want, leaving the European Convention on Human Rights.
Just two days after Sunak sacked home secretary Suella Braverman – who previously described the Rwanda scheme as her “dream and obsession” – the scheme was shutdown by the UK's highest court.
The court’s justices said proposals to send people who arrive in the UK illegally to the East African nation for processing puts them at “real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement” as there are “serious and systematic defects in Rwanda’s procedures and institutions for processing asylum claims”.
Refoulement or, in simple terms, the forcible returning of people to their home country or another where they face persecution contravenes a number of international laws and treaties.
They listed the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the United Nations refugee convention among others.
The court’s decision was welcomed by LGBTQ+ and refugee groups, which had pointed out Rwanda’s record of human rights abuses and persecution of queer people numerous times during the 18-month-long court battle.
In a joint statement from organisations including Rainbow Migration, Mermaids, and Stonewall, the Rwanda plan was described as “cruel and immoral.” They urged the government to “immediately abandon” similar plans and “instead protect the rights of people who have come to our country in search of sanctuary”.
These key stakeholders said they remained concerned by the Tories’ “overall treatment of people who move to this country”, however, adding:
“We are alarmed by this government’s continuous efforts to detain and forcibly send people to countries where they may not know anyone, especially if it puts them at risk of harm and human rights violations.”
Sunak wants to change the laws – some MPs want him to break them
“I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off. I will not take the easy way out,” said embattled prime minister Rishi Sunak after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled his government’s controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful.
On Wednesday afternoon, the government held a hastily organised press conference where the prime minister vowed to end the legal “merry-go-round” and get the Rwanda deal off the ground.
He told reporters he would “change our laws” and revisit “international relationships to remove the obstacles in our way” and declare the country safe.
“I will not allow a foreign court,” aka the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, “to block these flights.”
In the wake of the decision, members of Sunak’s party were more combative and demanded the UK leave the ECHR altogether – a concept which has gained increasing political traction in recent months.
Braverman posted that legislation must “block off ECHR, HRA, and other routes of legal challenge” as “there is no chance of curbing illegal migration within the current legal framework”.
Deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson – infamously known for his belief that people can live on 30p a day – raged: “My take is we should just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda and show strength.
“We should ignore the laws and send them straight back the same day.”
Analysis: Sunak can change laws, but not reality
Despite the highest court in the land unanimously rejecting the Tories’ immigration policy, Sunak is going to stake his political career on it by bulldozing ahead and introducing emergency legislation to label Rwanda a safe third country.
A rash response which showcases this government’s absolute contempt for vulnerable LGBTQ+ refugees in the face of legal expertise and reason.
Whilst Sunak can introduce emergency laws and label Rwanda a safe third country for asylum seekers, that does not make it so.
A new law would not mitigate the fact that LGBTQ+ Rwandans have previously sought asylum in the UK as the situation in the country is so dire, nor would it mitigate reports of LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, and street children being arbitrarily detained by the authorities.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner acknowledged the Supreme Court’s justices said non-refoulement was a “fundamental concept” in different sources of law, and so the government can “legislate to say actually Rwanda is safe; it doesn’t make Rwanda safe as a matter of international and domestic law” - The Guardian,
The idea of leaving the ECHR as a means of the Tories willing their own version of the truth into reality – solely to crack down on migration – is deeply concerning to experts who posit UK citizens have the most to lose.
"All of this is worrying and morally abhorrent, but one thing the government and Tory backbenchers in favour of leaving the ECHR are conspicuously silent about is that most cases brought to the ECHR are cases about human rights violations committed by states against their own citizens - Professor of political theory Miriam Ronzoni tells Euronews
"In other words, it is also, or perhaps mainly, UK citizens who stand to lose a lot in terms of human rights protections.”
It seems the British public are more acutely aware of this than of this than our elected officials, with YouGov data highlighting that more than 50 per cent of Britons want to remain in the ECHR.
Whilst newly appointed home secretary James Cleverly has rebuked the notion, saying the UK “prides itself on being a law-abiding country” and ministers would not attempt to alter human rights laws “simply to manufacture an unnecessary row for political gain”, the conversations are no less concerning.
It's striking how similar Andrew Lumsden's story is with Gay News - and why I started QueerAF.
QueerAF began in response to an editor who told me to stop pitching 'gay stories' because there was no 'money' or 'audience' for them.
No one should be told their lives aren't worth telling a story about.
I didn't understand this at the time, but one reason newsrooms create awful experiences as I faced, is because they are locked into a system.
One that rewards stories that feed hungry divisive algorithms. All to serve enough ads to simply repeat the cycle over again.
It's stark, but not surprising - that I'm still told stories like mine and Andrews, regularly.
So many journalists have told me stories of pitching LGBTQIA+ articles only to be told they aren't "interesting", "worthwhile", or "click-worthy".
It's time to change that. Because, and as we show week in week out - our stories count.
We're here to do with our queer as f**k audacious project, but we need your support to truly banish stories like mine and Andrew's to the history books.
Join the community who are making that future possible today.