January 9, 2024
In November, the UK Supreme Court declared the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful, citing concerns about potential harm upon return to their home countries. In response, the UK government swiftly signed a new migration treaty with Rwanda. This article explores the events since the Supreme Court order, analysing the implications of the treaty, the subsequent legislative developments, and the legal complexities arising from passing a law contrary to a Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court’s ruling centred on the principle of non-refoulement (the prohibition of returning individuals to a country where they may face persecution or harm), asserting that the UK couldn’t guarantee asylum seekers sent to Rwanda wouldn’t face harm upon return to their home countries. The decision prompted the UK government to reevaluate its approach and seek alternative solutions.

The New Migration Treaty

On December 5, the UK signed a new migration treaty with Rwanda, aiming to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court. Home Secretary James Cleverley emphasised the treaty’s provisions, including the establishment of an independent monitoring committee, British and Commonwealth judges overseeing appeals, and financial support for relocated individuals. Cleverley asserted that the treaty ensured the safety of asylum seekers in Rwanda.

Government’s Justification

The UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is part of its broader strategy to deter migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has highlighted “stopping the boats” as a top priority. However, legal challenges and delays have marred the implementation of the Rwanda scheme, exposing the tension between national security objectives and human rights considerations.

Opposition and Labour’s Stance

Labour, the main opposition party, has been vocal in its criticism of the Rwanda policy. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper labelled the policy as “failing” and argued for redirecting funds towards combating criminal organisations facilitating small boat crossings. Labour’s pledge to scrap the policy if elected raises questions about its long-term viability, highlighting the political divide over immigration policies and their humanitarian implications.

Legal Challenges and Legislative Responses

To overcome the Supreme Court’s concerns, the government introduced emergency legislation asserting Rwanda as a safe country. The new treaty signed with Rwanda is seen as a comprehensive response, addressing issues raised by the court.

However, concerns persist, and the legislative process has become a battleground, with the controversial Rwanda bill passing its second reading amid vocal opposition.The clash between the executive and judicial branches underscores the complexity of enacting laws in defiance of established court rulings.


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Legal Analysis

The passage of legislation contradicting a Supreme Court ruling introduces a legal quagmire. In the UK’s constitutional framework, the Supreme Court’s decisions are binding, creating a precedent that lower courts must follow. However, Parliament retains the authority to pass laws, and the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty allows it to override judicial decisions.

In this case, the government’s decision to introduce legislation asserting Rwanda as a safe country directly challenges the Supreme Court’s ruling. Legal experts argue that such a move tests the delicate balance between the executive and judicial branches. Critics contend that it undermines the rule of law, as the government seeks to circumvent a judicial determination based on human rights considerations.

The legal analysis hinges on whether the new legislation can effectively address the Supreme Court’s concerns and reconcile the government’s migration policy with established human rights principles. The courts may face future challenges in interpreting and applying the law, especially if it conflicts with international obligations or sets a precedent for similar cases.

The Legislative Battle

The ‘Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Migration)’ bill faced a contentious second reading in the House of Commons on December 12. Despite opposition, including within the Conservative Party, the bill passed with 313 votes to 269. Critics argue that the legislation contradicts the Supreme Court ruling and undermines human rights standards. The bill’s progression to the committee stage signals continued debates in the new year, as lawmakers grapple with the broader implications of legislative actions that challenge judicial determinations.

Geopolitical Ramifications

The controversy surrounding the UK’s asylum policy has implications beyond its borders. The international community, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has scrutinised the deal with Rwanda.

The geopolitical fallout raises questions about the UK’s commitment to international human rights standards and its standing in diplomatic circles. The divergence between domestic policy goals and global expectations adds a layer of complexity to the already contentious issue, shaping perceptions of the UK on the world stage.

Public Response

The bill’s passage ignited public disagreements within the Conservative Party, with critics expressing concerns about potential human rights violations. Influential figures, including footballer Gary Lineker and actor Brian Cox, have called for the scrapping of the Rwanda scheme and a more compassionate approach to refugees.The public and international backlash underscores the divisive nature of the policy and its impact on the UK’s standing in the global human rights landscape.


The saga surrounding the UK’s attempt to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has unfolded through legal battles, legislative manoeuvres, and public dissent. While the government argues that the new migration treaty addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns, opposition parties, international bodies, and influential figures remain sceptical.

The passage of the controversial Rwanda bill, with its legal intricacies, signifies a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over immigration policy and the balance between national security and humanitarian considerations. The resolution of this issue will likely shape the trajectory of UK asylum policies and its international reputation in the years to come. This is crucial for those looking to go into immigration law.

Commercial Awareness Questions

Check out our round-up of commercial awareness questions to challenge you to look further into this topic:

  • Which existing human rights treaties could this move be violating?
  • How does the legal process involved in this treaty affect the discourse on parliamentary sovereignty in the UK?
  • Is the Rwanda treaty justified even after the Supreme Court’s rejection?


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